3rd Act Critic Barbara Michaels gives a personal response to being a critic with Get the Chance.
With over half a century of reviewing under my belt, I can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t passionate about both music and theatre. This was intensified when I got my first job on a local paper. I was eighteen, as the most junior member of the staff – and the only female in the days when women on newspapers were few and far between. I was expected to cover tasks such as weddings, flower shows and (to my delight) amateur dramatics.
This was a wonderful training ground which led to me covering professional theatre on my second paper. My big break came later, when I was working freelance and also running a syndication agency. The reviewer covering a first night ballet performance at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden was ill and asked if I could do it. I have always loved dance but had never previously reviewed a dance production so cut my teeth on the Creme de la Creme. To this day dance is my favourite of all the art forms and – like all the arts – underfunded, if I had the money (which, as an OAP, I don’t) I would support.
Opera in Wales is still regarded by some as only for the elite. This is far from being the case. Please give it a try! We are so fortunate in Wales to have the WNO – a world-class opera company performing in a wonderful venue. Their production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, which I reviewed recently, was as near perfection as you are ever likely to see.
Life is busy for me. As well as reviewing I edit a community magazine and last year published my first book for young children, entitled WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH SLITHERS? The publication of the book, shortly;to be featured in a Cardiff book festival, coincided with the birth of my first great granddaughter Chloe Jo, and I am now expecting another great grandchild.
“Age doth not wither her.” The old adage definitely can be applied to Rebecca Evan’s portrayal of the demanding central role of the Marschallin in a new production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, a co-production between Welsh National Opera and Theater Magdeburg. Evans is at the top of her scale, with a soaring soprano and equally at ease in Act I as the skittish Bichette (her lover’s name for the Marschallin) and in the final scenes as a mature and gracious lady, bowing to the inevitable.
Right from the start there is poignancy behind the comedy, as a lone figure portraying the Marschallin in age is seen either seated in a chair or wandering around at the back of the stage. A nice touch of individuality in that the (non speaking) part is played by actress Margaret Bainton who was in the chorus of the WNO for thirty-seven years and played a child in Der Rosenkavalier fifteen years ago
The Marschallin is married to a high-ranking Field Marshall who is conveniently away on duty as she enjoys a bit of rumpy pumpy with her young lover, Count Octavian (nicknamed Quinquin) , only to be most inconveniently interrupted by the boorish Baron Ochs, up from the country and hell-bent on acquiring a young wife with money. The machinations become more and more involved, as Octavian is nominated to carry the obligatory silver rose – the Der Rosenkavalier of the title and traditionally symbolising and engagement– to the Baron’s prospective bride. What no one has bargained for is that the two young people are instantly smitten with one another and fall in love.
As often with operatic comedies, there is a hint of pantomime. The young Count Octavian is a female role, performed here by the delightful Canadian mezzo-soprano Lucia Cervoni, making her debut with WNO and singing the role with evident relish. Brindley Sherratt’s Baron not only shows perfect timing but his mastery of a difficult bass role, requiring as it does a range that is rare, Sherratt being one of the few who have this accomplishment. The Baron’s intended is Sophie, daughter of the daughter of nouveau riche businessman Faninal. Singing Sophie is the delightful newcomer Louise Alder, in Cardiff for Singer of the World and only the night before shortlisted as a contender for the title, while as Faninal her social climbing father with dreams of grandeur, Adrian Clarke is a Hitler-like figure of hand-rubbing nastiness.
Strauss’s wonderful music, bound together with its string of memorable waltz melodies, is a given, but in the hands of WNO’s new young conductor Tomáš Hanus takes on new dimensions, underlying the comedy and recognising the poignancy beneath. A small caveat – there is a sight hesitation, no more than a breath, in Act II when the tempo drops, otherwise this would have been five star. All in all – a masterpiece culminating in the superb singing of the trio as the opera draws to a close. Director Olivia Fuchs and designer Niki Turner are to be congratulated. Turner has resisted the temptation to go overboard, and instead opts for a single glittering chandelier that reflects the opulence of 1911 Vienna against elegant pale grey walls. An added pointer to the theme of the opera are the sands of time running out from above onto the stage, much appreciated by the audience but a nightmare for the stage hands.
Music: Richard Strauss
Libretto: Hugo von Hofmannsthal
Director: Olivia Fuchs http://www.wno.org.uk/event/der-rosenkavalier
En-route for the Edinburgh Festival 2016 – Exciting New Production from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama
.Fasten your safety belt and prepared to be gripped by high drama in Tom Hampson’s exciting debut play Two and One More, which opens on August 21st at Venue 13 at the Edinburgh Fringe and runs until August 27th. Members of What Might Have Been Theatre are producing and performing in the play at the venue, which is run by the college and has been providing a platform for performers and audiences to explore, create and experience some remarkable drama over the past twenty years.
Viewed at the RWCMD’s Bute Theatre during the run-up to the Fringe, Hampson’s play is set in London during the Blitz. A boy breaks into a London house and is discovered by the man living there alone. Or is he alone? What lies in the room next door? With young sector James Robert Rutherford as the young burglar, this play is guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat.
The high standard of the productions staged at Venue 13 has seen audiences returning year after year – a critic writing in The Stage described it thus: “If there was an award for the best run Fringe venue, then this would be it.”