Il low brow mondo della luna (ETO at Hackney Empire, 17 October 2014)
Surprisingly effective silly selenar shenaningas with English Touring Opera in the heart of Hackney. Ever been to Hackney Central? No? You’re not missing anything. I used to live on the Bus 254 route and passed by all the time but the shabbiness of the area never enticed me to step inside. Well, my loss. ETO has some clever tricks up its collective sleeve.
Ecclitico: Christopher Turner
Buonafede: Andrew Slater
Clarice: Jane Harrington
Lisetta: Martha Jones
Cecco: Ronan Busfield
Conductor: Christopher Bucknall | Orchestra of the ETO
You don’t often see Haydn operas – yet – so I jumped at the opportunity, especially seeing as how it’s not a big venue (1,275 capacity) and tickets for the Gallery are bargainous. Looking at the cast you might have noticed the parts of Flaminia and Ernesto have been slashed. Boohoo, I told myself, there goes the opportunity for mezzo goatee. But I spoke too soon! Facial hair makes an even funnier appearance 😀
ETO got Cal McCrystal to direct. He’s the chap behind One Man, Two Guvnors, which I have not seen but it’s likewise based on Goldoni, so that made sense. I’m slightly acquainted with Goldoni and what I can say it’s not very high brow humour rather typical 18th century servants and young people taking the piss out of the older, ornery generation. It’s not often I say this, but the best thing about this performance was the direction. If you like slapstick this is the show for you. Also if you like coloratura taken the piss out of – or even better, the two of them done at the same time – you might bust a gut laughing. I don’t know that I’ve seen a production before where coloratura was made to serve humour quite this well1.
Clarice, the young and beautiful daughter of the misogynist miser Buonafede (Goodfaith, eh) has this elaborate aria with lots of coloratura which you can tell is supposed to mock the earnestness of opera seria. Jane Harrington sings rather well, with good attention to detail (roulades) but at the same time manages to trip over and kick (how unladylike!) stairs then knock over and break a statue and finally a topiary bush – which she also lifts back by herself. That on top of taking the piss out of the show-off highs and lows which Haydn gave to the original singer.
It’s a traditional production but really it’s “traditional”. It’s done by this chap takis who you can just tell gets both traditional and regie and will make use of whichever accordingly. McCrystal wanted gags so imagine gags done in a very serious setting. The bit where Buonafede “is looking at the Moon” through the telescope in order to get a lunar peepshow was done with people performing unspeakable things to blowup dolls behind a screen.
Remember I said there is funny facial hair? Well, in slashing the parts of the virtuous couple, the remaining characters inherited some of their business. Clarice takes Hesperus androgyny to new heights. She’s kept her previous 18th century cotton candy hair, part of which doubles as a beard! She’s also wearing the bustle of her dress, without the actual dress (Ecclitico has warned Buonafede that them lunar dwellers have unusual habits and fashions). The bustle is worn sideways, which means the hip-side is sticking out at the front and at the back. At the front there’s a moon-face – for mock modesty – which is being made much fun of during her duet with Ecclitico and keeps poking him. Cecco, who gets to be the Emperor of the Moon, wears a Michelangelo’s David suit, complete with large cod piece. An inflatable planet Earth is hung in the sky and “comets” flash by. There’s more of the same and mostly very funny.
The singing was pretty good, especially from Slater’s Buonafede and Harrington’s Clarice. Nobody was poor but I think the lack of variation in tempi might have hindered all. Most arias as well as the orchestral bits ended up sounding similar, with a few flashes of energy at rather unexpected moments. Martha Jones’ (Lisetta) intensity, for instance, varied even during the same aria. Sometimes it was spot on, other times I was on the brink of losing interest. Christopher Turner (Ecclitico) and Ronan Busfield (Cecco) were hilarious dramatically but I felt the singing missed a certain spark. Generally there was a lack of focus to the sound that kept the musical part from being as enjoyable as it could have been. However, the wedding ceremony ensemble came off rather well and it all ended in much hilarity.
- The coloratura in La fille du regiment does sound like a complete piss take. ↩