/Tête à tête: The Opera Festival 2014 – Whisper Down the Lane, April in the Amazon, East O’ The Sun, West ‘O The Moon and The Fisherman’s Brides

Tête à tête: The Opera Festival 2014 – Whisper Down the Lane, April in the Amazon, East O’ The Sun, West ‘O The Moon and The Fisherman’s Brides

 By Mary Grace Nguyen

Tête à tête: The Opera Festival has an array of newly made fringe operas, which are being showcased on their 8th year of bringing together the freshest opera talent from the UK and abroad.

This year includes 30 world premières – 100 of which will be celebrated at Central Saint Martins College (Kings Cross) with Pop Up opera performances taking place on the streets and cafes of Kings Cross.

Here is snippet of what I experienced on its opening night on the 24th July.

Performers in Catherine Kontz’s Whisper Down the Lane

Promenade opera, Whisper Down the Lane is the creation of Catherine Kontz from DrawnForth Opera. It’s a theatrical examination of news and Chinese whispers which begs the question do you believe everything you read?  

With use of old Gramophone tubes and speaking devices, including a typewriter, Kontz decided to concoct a playful opera that would give passer-byers a giggle. With up to fifteen performers, this casual opera will definitely get audience members wondering what the heck is going on? 

The first thing I noticed on the stage of April in the Amazon was how young the conductor, Timothy Burke appeared yet I soon realised this was ubiquitous throughout the Tête à tête programme.

Here, artists were either thriving in the opera world or brand new to it which is why Tête à tête is the ideal place to showcase new invigorating operatic works. 

April in the Amazonis an eclectic new opera with a strong group of instrumentalists called Chroma who decorate the stage with their Hawaiian flora prints. Composer, Laurence Osborn and Theo Merz, who wrote the libretto, presented five stories into this all-in-one performance, told by their cabaret opera singer, Loré Lixenberg. 

Lixemburg with Chroma and Timothy Burke

Lixenberg has a showstopper voice entirely needed for April in the Amazon. Her strength lies from moving up and down the vocal spectrum from the most gracious, provoking, and full pelt of screaming.

There are plenty of occasions where she has quick conversations and ramblings with herself on her character’s impulsive desires for caffeine and rushed impersonations of monkeys that were met during an expedition in the Peruvian jungle.

April in the Amazonis a mix and buzz kind of opera where no two seconds are the same. Even the libretto is twisted with funny lines, which coincide with the various stories told by Lixenburg whether it’s Marxist philosophy, lying on a hammock, deciding whether to drink an espresso or describing perverted sessions with a clinical psychologist.

In this bizarrely interesting opera, which includes an ounce of tonic, aggressive cello plucking, strumming of the violins and radical infusions of clarinets, flutes and typewriters, there is certainly something quirky about it that will give the audience a glance of where future operas are – possibly – going. 

East O’ The Sun, West ‘O The Moon is a splendid piece with the most romantic music formed by worksOpera: the brainchild of Anna Pool, James Garner and Sarah Sweet. They all met during their time at Guildhall School of Music & Dance.

It is based on a Norwegian fairy tale about a white bear (baritone, Joseph Padfield) that visits the home of the family (a poor wood cuter (Rick Zwart), his wife (Alison Langer) and daughter (Laura Ruhí Vidal)) unexpectedly. The bear offers the parents wealth in exchange for their daughter, which she wilfully accepts. The daughter journeys with him into a mystical world of trolls, fantasy creatures and mountainous castles and strives to save the bear and her love for him from the evil Troll Princess played by the counter-tenor Lestyn Morris.

Before the opera begins, cast members hold lanterns designed as if they were from another world with steel made installations with spiral detail to accompany them on the open stage. This lovely folk tale is reminiscent of a winters fable which children would enjoy. It is something I’d like to see again, perhaps with a larger audience.

The costume designs of the characters, particularly the hand crafted design for the bear, helps the opera in provided a transparent libretto that is intermingled with silly jokes and harmonious melodies which inspire feelings of hope and happiness.

The music had its own bespoke sounds to describe the presence of the big white bear through a humming cello and the wonderment of the daughter’s travels through the purity of a viola, celeste, guitar and flute all accompanied by violins that may lift you off your seat.

The orchestra with music director,  James Albany Hoyle at The Fisherman’s Brides

Nineteen-year old composer and singer-songwriter, Lucie Treacher created The Fisherman’s Brides, which examines her curiosity for the Scottish Highlands and how its culture and people link themselves to the land and weather.

With a cast, mostly of female opera singers including Linda Hirst, Inês Simões, Caroline Kennedy and Emily Philips (to name a few), Treacher hopes to translate the lonely and struggling emotions of some of the fisherman’s girlfriends and wives ranging from various ages. Here, they express how they cope being away from their loved one who is out at sea.

The singing has a longing Celtic twang with music that combines contemporary, classical, Scottish highland, recorded sounds and music all together. These are recording from local environments such as sea waves, pebbles, farm animals and even a cameo appearance of a bagpipe as well.

Emily Philips in The Fisherman’s Bride

Treacher, as director, composer and writer behind the libretto gives herself the challenge of attempted to execute all of these things thoroughly well however, unfortunately there were too many things going on.

It was hard to follow the overly ambitious music at times, which still managed to show areas of potential. The story line was also filled with too many parts from various wives, some of whom had voices that were hard to endure.

The stage direction was a bit fuzzy as well. Something simpler without the unnecessary barnyard animals may have made it exceptional. 

For a full list of shows, please go to their website www.tete-a-tete.org.uk/festival-2014/  Or click here 

They are currently showing now until the 10th August.