Friday, 5 June 2009

Marriage is a farce, Guildhall

Operas at the Guildhall School of Music are always fun. Currently, there's a double bill of satires on the sacred institution of marriage. The show repeats on 5th, 8th and 10th, so try and go. It's a good cause and young performers need support.

The first part of the evening was Martinu 's The Marriage based on a play by Gogol.
A man thinks it would be a good idea to be married except he hasn't found the girl. Somehow it ends up with two marriage brokers, five suitors and one terrified girl, and he chickens out at the last moment. The plot is pretty slight, and the music (1952), while amusing isn't Great Art but entertaining.

The set is built so "rooms" change by
moving a cut out panel across the Guildhall stage. It's a good solution for the Guildhall stage which is wide but not deep. Designs reference Franz Marc and Expressionist painters, perhaps even Cezanne and there's a connection too to mumming tradition and 1920's horror films. These references are appropriate, but it's a bit erudite, and a lot to take in for a fairly inconsequential piece. Maybe that's why it needed boosting, but such puff and fluff can be easily be overwhelmed.

The real highlight was the early Rossini farce La cambiale di matrimonio. Again, the subject is marriage as a cynical commercial transaction. This time the stage becomes a pole dance nightclub, with several different focal points as the action switches. This was very good, well thought through and witty. It would transfer to great advantage on a much bigger stage and hall.

Sleazebag club owning father wants to sell daughter off to strange Canadian, but is racy slapstick, gags and some very decent arias. The seedy sex industry reference is unfortunately all too relevant these days, and this production brings out the sharpness of Rossini's social observation. It's certainly lots more than Romantic fluff.

The direction is by Alessandro Talevi, who's already developing a distinct "personality" - wit, panache, madcap. Sometimes over the top but better that he tries and thinks like that than some of the parsimonious, bland productions we've seen and pointless grimness we see too much of. Channel his enthusiasm well, and Talevi will have a lot to contribute. Designs are by Madeleine Boyd.

Singing, dancing and acting were pretty average, which is only to be expected in performers this young. Duncan Rock in the main role in Martinu, Derek Welton as Mill in Rossini were strong players. Welton was the star in the last Guildhall show, Sallinen's The King Goes Forth to France. (read review HERE), and was Rock's servant in Martinu, and Mill's Nicky Spence, who is fairly well established, made a wonderfully arch Kochkaryov, the friend of the bachelor in Martinu's piece, gloriously sleazy yet sinister - a Grand Guignol Stephen Fry.

Rebecca van den Berg was a lively Fanny in Rossini, singing with confidence and charm. Lots of other good performances, including Rhona McKail, Hannah Hipp, Andrew Finden, Emily Steventon, Raquel Luis, Emily Blanch, Jonathan Sells, Daniel Joy and Carlos Noguiera, in no particular order. And lots of extras ! Different cast on different days.

Oddly enough, one performer stood out, not because his roles were big but because he had that magic that is "stage presence".Adam Torrance was one of the crowd of Calais burghers in the recent Sallinen skit, employee in Rossini. Not at all major parts but somehow he has something extra. Comic edge maybe? Personality counts, in all things, not just on the stage.
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