OperaUpClose Presents ‘Songs of Solace and Spring’Review
This spring, OperaUpClose invites all to join them for a coffee break in two mini virtual concerts. The “At Home” concert series was first launched in May of 2020 as a way to brighten audiences’ spirits by bringing them informal concerts to be enjoyed from the comfort of the home, and to offer us all some well-deserved respite from our current moment.
For the past 12 years, OperaUpClose have provided intimate re-workings of popular repertoire with updated and relevant English translations, as well as championed new repertoire and showcased up-and-coming British talent. Their aim has been to provide innovative performances to broad audiences across the country. Their newest project – the “Coffee Break Concerts” - are a harmonious transition to a virtual form of storytelling that feels like a real extension of that aim.
The two concerts featured in the third season of their At Home series are based around Shakespeare’s works. The 30-minute, bite-sized concerts effortlessly marry text and music to create two balanced thematic programmes that reflect on Spring; the change and the hope that it represents.
It was encouraging to see these singers adapt to this wildly different style of performance with apparent ease.
Episode 9: Shakespeare Re-Shaped interweaves well known arias from Verdi’s Falstaff, and Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet (both with timely new English translations), art-song by Schubert and Finzi, and Shakespearean text, blending the three into a whole which feels greater than the sum of its parts, offering multiple interpretations of Shakespeare’s best-known texts.
We are invited into the homes of soprano Claire Wild, tenor Joseph Doody, and baritone Rodney Earl Clarke to enjoy a relaxed and friendly performance during which the singers engaged with us and with each other through the camera lens. Digital performance lacks the kind of magic energy that is created in a live theatre experience and therefore can never be a true replacement, but each singer gave exceedingly well-acted performances that featured an intimacy that productions in large opera houses often lack. Opera singers are not trained in the art of the subtle relationship between performer and camera as our jobs are to be heard across theatres by people in their thousands, but it was encouraging to see these singers adapt to this wildly different style of performance with apparent ease.
The highlight of the concert, however, was deaf actor Lara Steward’s performance of “Gallop apace”, Juliet’s Act III monologue from Romeo and Juliet in British Sign Language. Steward gave a rich and considered rendition of the piece which completely captured both the natural flow of the language, and the feeling of the text without using words at all. Her breathing, expressions and signing told more than words alone could.
She relished every one of Plath’s words, fully embodying this arresting text.
Actor and writer Kat Rose Martin gave a recitation of “Could great men thunder…” from Measure for Measure as well as a performance of an original text entitled “Ballad of the Voiceless”. Both of these performances offered a uniquely feminine perspective and a much-needed contextualization of the forceful “Ford’s aria”, performed earlier in the programme by Rodney Earl Clarke. The concert ended with a rousing round of Finzi’s “It was a lover and his lass” by all three singers to joyfully usher in the spring.
The second concert in the series, Episode 10: Calming the Tempest, expands on the Shakespearean theme, focusing this time on The Tempest. The programme opens with composer Rosabella Gregory’s incidental music “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” which sets a brooding, stormy tone, eventually fading out to actor Athena Stevens reciting Sylvia Plath’s “The Bee Meeting”. This was a remarkably intentional and emotive performance from Stevens who appeared to have a deep understanding of, and connection to the piece. She relished every one of Plath’s words, fully embodying this arresting text.
Text, particularly when paired intelligently with music can have a powerful hold.
Guy Woolfendon’s Songs of Ariel sung by Tenor Joseph Doody were interspersed with monologue “Where should this music be?” from The Tempest recited by actor Jade Anouka as well as an original text by the actor entitled “This Brave Vessel”, a hopeful musing on the potential for possibility the emergence from our current chrysalis state holds. Actress Fiona Shaw introduced the final set; a world premiere of Nicholas O’Neill’s Three Songs to poems by Emily Dickinson, three small jewels in the richly adorned crown of this concert which beautifully accented Dickinson’s strange and poignant musings on spring, offering a subdued and thoughtful ending.
Text, particularly when paired intelligently with music can have a powerful hold, which these Coffee Break Concerts served as a reminder of, provided an uplifting interlude. How inspiring to think that even despite our limitations, creativity has a hard time being quelled. If you are craving some relief from the monotony of your day or are in need of a pause to enjoy some music, both concerts are currently streaming and are available to watch until May 13th.
OperaUpClose are requesting a small donation the cost of a coffee from viewers in support of their artists and their continued efforts. So go and make yourself an espresso, get comfy and enjoy. Happy Spring!