Jenna's list: the year's Top 10 of London

Jenna's list: the year's Top 10 of London

Jenna Simeonov

Well, it’s been just over a year since I started running wildly around London, trying not to miss any of the city’s endless operatic offerings. On top of the many, many shows, I’ll miss the charming little ice creams at intermission (sorry, interval), and the weird named for different seating sections (what the hell are the stalls), and of course, the sheer quantity of things to see and hear all year long.

Of course, no exit would be complete without a round-up of sorts. So, in no particular order, I’ve summed up the year’s spectacles into 10 particularly memorable picks.

The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak at Wilton’s Music Hall

The words “puppet opera” don’t necessarily make you think of a moving story that stays with you for days afterwards, but Tarrare the Freak proved the exception. Wattle & Daub’s operatic tale, based on the real-life French polyphagic, was completely entrancing and totally, totally sad. It was an ingenious integration of opera singers, puppeteers, and intricate puppet design; the creative elements were all impressive on a technical level, and the true story had me invested enough to go through more than one descent through Wikipedia links.

The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak, Wilton’s Music Hall, 2017. Photo by Barney Witts.

The Magic Flute at ENO

Simon McBurney’s production of the Mozart favourite was a beautiful mix of childlike, supernatural, and human. The use of [Foley artists]( and puppetry had me wide-eyed, as though McBurney found refreshing humour in a story that gets studied and pulled apart almost ad nauseam. It was a treat to hear Allan Clayton sounding totally at home as Tamino, and my Canadian pride swelled with Ambur Braid’s fierce Queen of the Night.

The Threepenny Opera at the National Theatre

It was a bit of a cultural experience to see Weill and Brecht’s infamous Threepenny Opera at London’s National Theatre (with my fab mom, to boot!). The show felt almost site-specific, my time in London adding significance to the seedy streets where the dirty, moving story unfolds, and there’s perhaps no tune so wistful and haunting as The Ballad of Mack the Knife. Plus, after watching that horrifying first episode of Black Mirror on Netflix, it was a total hoot to see Rory Kinnear himself as Macheath.

Rory Kinnear (Macheath), centre, and the ensemble of The Threepenny Opera, National Theatre’s Olivier Theatre, 2016.

Boys of Paradise at EGG London

In hindsight, it made perfect sense that the story of a young, “twinky” man who goes too far, too fast, in London’s gay nightclub scene, would be elevated using the Greek myth of the Phoenix. The immersive opera by Vahan Salorian and Dominic Kimberlin put me right amid the deafening, overstimulating story of Twink and his friends Fag Hag and Cub, who have three very different initiations into the fictional club Paradaezia. It was one of the few operas where the immersion was truly seamless, and I wished the night had lasted longer.

The Nose at ROH

Barrie Kosky + Shostakovich + Martin Winkler seemed to equal giddy glee at the Royal Opera House. Each scene screamed of the meticulous hours of design, musicianship and tech rehearsal that created this exhaustive production of The Nose. Surreal, hilarious, and awesome, I couldn’t suppress a guffaw at the tap-dancing chorus line of oversize noses. The production is currently up on The Opera Platform, and if you haven’t yet seen it, take a look before it’s gone.

The Nose at Royal Opera House. Photo by Bill Cooper.

Matthias Goerne and Daniel Trifonov at Wigmore Hall

A titan of German Lieder, paired with one of today’s hottest pianists, turned out to be a heavy, engrossing night at Wigmore Hall. Matthias Goerne and Daniel Trifonov created fan-fiction of sorts, centred on Schumann’s Dichterliebe; the cycle was preceded by Berg, and sets by Shostakovich and Brahms seem to write the sequels to the story of the troubled poet. The pair performed for 90 minutes, uninterrupted, and it left a lasting impression.

The Pirates of Penzance at ENO

In the same way that The Threepenny Opera felt site-specific, Mike Leigh’s saturated production of The Pirates of Penzance seemed like one of the most organic things one could see in the middle of London. The G&S style, the British-flavoured humour, and the joy in the ENO Orchestra, it all felt like a window into English operetta history. Andrew Shore’s Modern Major General was picture-perfect and totally endearing.

Andrew Shore (Major-General Stanley), Lucy Shaufer (Ruth), and Ashley Riches (Pirate King) in The Pirates of Penzance, ENO, 2017. Photo by Tom Bowles.

Oreste at Wilton’s Music Hall

There was something visceral, uncomfortable, and committed about the Jette Parker Young Artists’ performance of Handel’s Oreste. Gerard Jones’ production held nothing back, and the raw and cozy space of Wilton’s Music Hall let me get right up to close to see and hear the stuff of the Royal Opera young artists. Handel’s pasticcio demanded plenty from their voices, and it was like scratching an itch to see the skill and maturity with which they took on leading roles.

Héloïse Werner’s Scenes from the End

Werner’s one-woman opera, Scenes from the End was everything that’s great about stripped-down, small-scale shows. It’s about grief and dealing with the loss of loved ones, and the familiarity of Werner’s “stages of grief” were so true it almost filled you with unease.

Lucia di Lammermoor at ROH

Katie Mitchell’s production of Lucia was one of the most polarising things I’ve seen during our time. There were men booing ferociously as the creative team took their bows, and it was like Christmas. Mitchell pulled off one of the hardest tricks in the director’s handbook, taking bold liberties and filling in the empty space left in Donizetti’s opera. Hearing Diana Damrau sing the famous Mad Scene was an experience in itself, but she also proved that she’s a total singing actress, earning some of the biggest heartbreak in total silence. So great.

Ludovic Tézier as Enrico Ashton, Diana Damrau as Lucia, ROH. Photographer: Stephen Cummiskey.

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