Thursday, 19 July 2018

REVIEW: The Skating Rink at Garsington Opera

Garsington Opera fourth offering of the season was the World premiere of a new opera by David Sawer and Rory Mallarkey based on a Chilean novel by Roberto Bolano for just five performances. It is wonderful that they are able to risk investing in new modern opera to compliment there more traditional offering. It is bold bright production with the Skating rink (a special plastic rather than ice) covering the whole stage, a multicoloured backdrop and mobile unit that doubles up as all the office or home of the main characters. Sadly the Palace in which the skating rink itself is built is represented by a host of packing cases as if the budget did not extend to the usual high production values after the rink had been paid for! Nevertheless the setting allowed Director and designer Stewart Laing to flow the action slickly from camp site to the beach to town offices and to the palace itself.

The story is a murder mystery mixed with a love triangle in a Catalonian town, told from the point of view of three of the male characters. So we get Gaspar’s story (a night watchman and aspiring poet played by the tenor Sam Furness), Remo’s story (the campsite owner played by baritone Ben Edquist) and Enric’s story (a town official played by baritone Grant Doyle). It may have added to the story telling to have heard the story from at least one of the three central female characters Nuria (the ice skater at the centre of the love triangle, played by soprano Lauren Zolezzi) , Pilar (the politically ambitious mayor played by mezzo Soprano Louise Winter) and Carmen (the down and out former opera singer played by Susan Bickley ) because they are actually the most interesting characters. Susan Bickley has great fun and is a commanding presence despite dressing down as the bag lady that the Mayor wants removed from the town and her powerful performances in a town cafe and in Enric’s office are the most compelling of the show. I never fully understood why the Mayor did not ask the two cornetto eating, champagne swilling police to organise the eviction or investigate the murder!

The ice dances sequences are also a delight with Alice Poggio pirouetting gracefully over the plastic and then Enric imagining himself skating effortlessly across the ice in sharp contrast to his faltering steps to reach Nuria when she later falls. It was the ice skating sequences that seemed most harmonious with the score. Indeed I found much of the eclectic mix of musical styles discordant and unpredictable with the action and it at times felt like the underscore was disconnected from the narrative singing on stage. The libretto sung in English itself was simplistic with too much exposition directed at the audience and I
almost wished it was in Spanish! The lyrics occasionally jarred with fat shaming ( “the fatso in the tracksuit”) , curious phrases like “as black as a bucket of machine oil” or repeated instructions like “make them go”. 

The spiky bold new modern opera will be an acquired taste for the most ardent of opera fans but as a strong contrast to this season’s wonderful Falstaff and in the wonderful setting of the Garsington estate it is a taste worth enjoying.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Front stalls | Price of Ticket: £30 + donation

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