Posts Tagged ‘Vaudeville Theatre’

Master Class, Vaudeville Theatre, London’s West End, February 2012

8 February, 2012

Excerpts from Bellini’s La Sonnambula, Puccini’s Tosca, and Verdi’s Macbeth by young singers trying out their talents in front of Maria Callas. Sometimes she stops them even before they’ve uttered their first note, and it’s glorious fun, with Tyne Daly giving a stunning portrayal of the diva. She’s imperious, impatient, and intensely musical. “Just listen. Everything is in the music”.

Tyne Daly as Maria Callas, all images Johan Persson

Indeed it is, and Callas was one of the great musical actresses of the twentieth century. At the start of Act II she is holding the score of Bellini’s Norma, but when her third student appears and suggests she could sing the heroine’s opening aria Casta Diva, Callas tells her to forget it. Quite right too. Casta Diva is very hard, and too easy to mess up, even for top-flight singers whom she rather rudely compares to performing seals. She mentions names such as Scotto and Sutherland, referred to by the press as her ‘rivals’, but “How can you have rivals when no-one can do what you do?” When the third singer returns to stage, after throwing up in her dressing room, Callas tells her she could sing Mimi (in Bohème) or Michaela (in Carmen), but not the big dramatic roles such as Norma or Lady Macbeth because she’s too young. This elicits the response that Callas herself sang Medea when she was young. “I was never young — I couldn’t afford it”, and she goes on to mention the word Mut in German, meaning something like courage felt from the heart.

Callas had a heart, and this finely crafted play by Terrence McNally shows how it was seriously wounded towards the end of her career by that Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who dumped her and married Jackie Kennedy. Maria Callas was a forthright, determined and ultimately tragic figure, but the presentation never flags and is hugely witty in parts, helped by excellent direction from Stephen Wadsworth. I laughed out loud at several points, sometimes without a word being spoken.

Tyne Daly with Naomi O'Connell

But this play is also about the music and singing, with Dianne Pilkington in Act I delivering excerpts from Amina’s arias in Sonnambula while Callas stops her at almost every breath. Then as Cavaradossi in Tosca, Garrett Sorenson shows he hasn’t a clue what church the hero is in, or even what’s really going on, but after a brief conflict with Callas he launches into that early Act I aria Recondita armonia, and she is transfixed. When performing in Tosca herself she was always waiting to make her first entrance singing Mario! Mario! off-stage, and had no time to admire the beauty of the tenor’s voice. Finally, young Irish mezzo-soprano Naomi O’Connell gave a dramatic performance as Lady Macbeth.

This has transferred from its Broadway success, where Tyne Daly and Garrett Sorenson played the same roles, as did Jeremy Cohen as the engagingly laconic pianist. If you like opera, it’s a must-see, and if you don’t it is still a fascinating portrayal of a great performer, showing intense dedication to her art. But most of all it’s great fun with never a dull moment.

Performances continue until April 28 — for details click here.

An Ideal Husband, Vaudeville Theatre, London’s West End, November 2010

30 November, 2010

This witty and cleverly constructed play by Oscar Wilde was beautifully performed by the entire cast. So beautifully in fact that I never had a serious doubt it would all work out well in the end. Perhaps I should have done, because the charmingly dishonest Mrs. Cheveley, brilliantly played by Samantha Bond, exuded an air of inevitable success even though she ends up with nothing and loses the valuable brooch she once stole.

Mrs. Cheveley is poles apart from her old school ‘friend’ Lady Chiltern, who is puffed up with pride at having an ideal husband, a situation that allows her to sail forth clothed in good deeds and moral inflexibility. Unfortunately, the husband Sir Robert Chiltern has a nasty skeleton in his cupboard, well exhibited by a letter that has recently come into Mrs. Cheveley’s possession. This is a play about blackmail, political opportunism and questions of honour, and as such is as fitting to the present time as it was to the late nineteenth century in which it was written.

Rachael Stirling gave a beautiful portrayal of Lady Chiltern, who is pulled up short at the end when her husband, very convincingly played by Robert Hanson, refuses to give his sister’s hand to the shrewd but apparently foppish Lord Goring. Now it is he who shows moral inflexibility, and his wife feels obliged to explain that things are not entirely as he thought. Elliot Cowan played the amusing dandy Lord Goring with witty self-deprecation, a remarkable change from the Macbeth I last saw him perform at the Globe this summer. His wonderful lines, such as “I love talking about nothing, father. It’s the only thing I know anything about” were delivered with superb nonchalance, and his body language was wonderfully expressive. Charles Kay as his father showed ample disdain and concern in a suitably restrained way, and Caroline Blakiston as Lady Markby almost stole the scene at one point with her fine monologue.

The whole cast worked superbly together, and this production by Lindsay Posner turns Wilde’s 1895 drama into something absolutely topical, as did his excellent staging of Roberto Devereux at Opera Holland Park in summer 2009. Lighting by Peter Mumford showed Stephen Brimson Lewis’s designs to perfection, and what fine designs they are, with immensely tall rooms expensively decorated. For a delightful evening’s entertainment in these cold days with protests, strikes and economic gloom, you cannot do better. Performances continue until February 26th — for more details click here.