Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Operatic Queens

"Some may say that I couldn't sing, but no one can say that I didn't sing." - Florence Foster Jenkins

No sooner have I referred to the role of the coarse actor in amateur dramatics, than I have been to see an amateur performance that was very good by being very bad. I have been to see 'Glorious!', the story of Florence Foster Jenkins. My companion for the evening had seen the Meryl Streep film on the same subject and, according to her, it covers the same ground in a very different way. This version was certainly very funny, in particular the transition between the first and second scenes of the second act which was also well directed. I could, however, have done with fewer gay 'jokes'; if there was ever a time when simply saying the word 'pansies' was funny then thankfully it has long gone. Top marks must go to Katrina Wood in the lead role. It must be incredibly hard to sing that badly on purpose if one can sing properly in the first place. Here is Madame Jenkins herself to show what I mean:

I am going to see 'The Magic Flute' soon, and I'm sure that I won't be able to get that rendition out of my head. In the meantime I went to see the live broadcast of 'The Queen of Spades' from the Royal Opera House. Opera directors are seemingly incapable of telling a story straight and this was a high concept production, although I must, grudgingly, say that it largely worked. The main idea was that the composer was on stage throughout, mostly sat behind a piano watching his characters take life, but also with his own story, of his guilt about his homosexuality and his extremely short lived marriage mixed in with Pushkin's novella. If it succeeded it was because they threw the kitchen sink at it theatrically. I was very taken when the male chorus came on stage all dressed as Tchaikovsky, with many of them looking more like him than he did; it was like the occasion when Ernest Hemingway came fifth in an Ernest Hemingway lookalike competition. Here, for the avoidance of doubt, is the real thing:

There is a Mozart pastiche in the ball scene of Act II, and there was coincidentally a reference to 'The Magic Flute' here as well with two sopranos dressed as songbirds alternately wrestling with Tchaikovsky (or possibly with Count Levitsky; it was hard to tell by then) and writhing erotically on the floor together. By no means the most bizarre aspect was when the title character died (apologies for the spoiler, but - once again - it's an opera) they buried her in the piano. Sometimes when things are that weird one just has to go with it. 

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