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Tête à Tête Opera Festival 2009

Neyire Ashworth – Stolen Voices
Filament Ride / One Dark Night
Nightingale Opera Ula
Stephen Crowe The Singing Bone
Glyndebourne Youth Opera Who Am I?

Riverside Studios, London W6

8, 13 & 16 August 2009


NB - links are integral to Musical Pointers reports; do click on those below !


Opera is fraught with funding hurdles and many a project has to work as hard, or harder, to achieve and maintain viable funding as towards live artistic realisation of its dreams. Tête à Tête is a production company which over the years has provided opportunities for creators to show work in progress to paying audiences and, unsurprisingly, standards and prospects thereafter are variable.


It is a pick and mix affair: - - one for people who don’t mind pot luck - - Most evenings offer six short shows. It’s best to dive in without thinking too hard before making a selection.[Telegraph]


Under their auspices, we have over the years greatly enjoyed some really notable evenings: Vivaldi Orlando Plays Mad at Battersea Arts Centre, August 2000; Family Matters (in which six youthful composers - what's happened to them? - shared Amanda Holden's libretto upon the little known final play in Beaumarchais's Figaro trilogy) at The Bridewell Theatre February 2004; David Bruce's Push! at Riverside Studios, June 2006 - 'a marvellous little opera, unlike any other - its three year gestation culminating in a joyous parturition' ; Osnat Schmool's Drive, Ride, Walk at Tête à Tête Opera Festival, Riverside Studios August 2007 & at Goldsmiths College March 2009 - 'outright unanimous winner of of the Bridewell Theatre Musical Theatre Development Project competition'. Hear Osnat Schmool discussing the project with young enthusiasts on location at Homerton Hospital.


Bill Bankes-Jones, Tête à Tête's Artistic Director, has kept faith with Drive, Ride, Walk. Two further episodes of this intended full evening entertainment by Osnat Schmool (composer) and Sabina Netherclift (Director) were premiered at this year's festival and showed that this has been warranted. Finances allowing, the 80-minute version should be seen in Greenwich in 2010...

RIDE was a quarter hour love story featuring composer/librettist Osmat Schmool herself as singer and actress, playing a cycle courier (here on a scooter) 'amidst the pedestrian rush and clatter of office life'. The audience came down on stage to mingle with the action and one welcomed the concentration on two protagonists as a focus amidst the general bustle of city life. As always, the casting was fully professional and based on a vocal score for nine veratile singers/actors, with melodica, cello, and body percussion combining to creates an individual entity somewhere between Opera and ‘The Musical’. ONE DARK NIGHT has an exhausted, depressed city worker alone back home in her flat, miming her moods silently, backed by the vocal group in attendance who convey her feelings in a subtly scored and staged commentary (hear some of their disciplined singing on MySpace).

Sunday August 16 had an end of term feeling, with the riversde terrace closed athough it was a glorious sunny day... But it was worth making the journey across London for WHO AM I ?; the re-written and finished offering of Glyndebourne Youth Opera. Their creation with composer/music director Hannah Conway and her excellent colleagues for costume design, choreography and lighting was a delight. Particularly imaginative was the deployment of umbrellas and parasols of all sizes, colours and transparency, which filled the stage with movement [rehearsal picture only].

Designed to complement Dvorak's Rusalka, it was a quite complicated tale of a mermaid heroine who acquires feet, gets out of the water, thwarts a witch's spell, marries one of four delectable princes, so that everyone lives "happerly ever after"! That one word excepted, trouble was taken with diction to get across the somewhat overloaded text.

The music, apart from a few phrases on the piano to highlight creepy moments, was four- square classical diatonic, making for confident singing, but not really a 20/21 C idiom, which would not necessarily be beyond the children participating (c.p.Jonathan Dove's more exploratory community operas - clever but never too clever nor alienating).

Those well-heeled Glyndebourne patrons who can arrive early on 24 August in time to see WHO AM I ? at Glyndebourne's Jerwood Theatre before their own Dvorak opera have a treat in store; my thanks to Tête à Tête for making it possible for Musical Pointers to see and review it - - a privilege denied until now to this website under the long maintained press ticket policy of Glyndebourne Opera and Touring Opera - q.v. "Only a Website". *

Peter Grahame Woolf

Neyire Ashworth's Stolen Voices proved to be one of the most fascinating pieces of music theatre I have ever seen, devised and performed by clarinettist Neyire Ashworth with additional input from director Kath Burlinson.   Using spoken dialogue, singing, her clarinet and just a handful of props she conjured up a sizeable cast of characters, bringing to life episodes from her Anglo-Turkish upbringing.    Her Turkish mother was there dispensing hospitality to the audience – olives, cheese raki – a natural rebel and member of a banned communist party who risked imprisonment for demonstrating in the streets of Istanbul, yet settling in Surrey and paying for private tuition for her daughter.    Herself at various stages of youth, then joining an orchestra with a wonderfully accurate portrayal of the disparaging comments of a fellow instrumentalist “no symphony orchestra experience, then”.   She unfolded her story with the warmth, candour and wit.  Her clarinet became almost an alter ego, another voice commenting on the action as well as supplying sound effects, the rustle of wind in the trees, the gentle lap of waves on the Bosporus.   Later she introduced the spy John Vassall, who apparently was in the habit of taking her mother to the opera at Covent Garden, and an anonymous photograph of another presumed beau found amongst her mother’s possessions.   Finally she slipped in a measure of doubt: where did fact end and fiction start, was it all just a passing fancy, or had we been listening to a true story?   Altogether it was a perfectly crafted entertainment, a tour de force and surely one of the major highlights of this year’s festival.  

Prior to this I had enjoyed the Golden Hat Opera Company’s Passing Afflictions, fragments of an opera inspired by The Wizard of Oz still at a very early stage in its creation.    The audience held up their cards and voted gamely to “Hire” or Fire” various alternative settings, in a presentation that was engaging without be overly mind-stretching.   The evening was rounded off by Cabaret Fou – NOT an opera as the performers were keen to stress, but a succession of songs designed to amuse and provoke.     Classic pieces by Eisler and Schoenberg were interspersed with more recent compositions,  one of the most effective a setting of a vintner’s tasting notes on Laphroaig whisky with its long, peat-smoky finish beautifully realised by the music.   Generally the presentation was disappointingly languid, cabaret needs more involvement than this with the audience teased along and kept on the hook awaiting the final bite of the lyrics. 


Each weekday evening of the Festival uses two of Riverside’s studios, offering their audience a mix-&-match double bill of three operas chosen from six. The alternative to Ride/One Dark Night was Ula, which proved to be the fully staged and intelligently directed first act of a carefully constructed thriller, and played to a near capacity audience.  Accompanied by a small chamber group, a blood drenched actor in the prologue warns the audience of the final outcome of the tragedy, before the story begins to unfold around the figure of Ula, a foundling child raised by a local fisherman, who has grown into a beautiful and enigmatic young woman.  It is the sort of mystery that Daphne du Maurier specialised in. An evocative score and some short video sequences were effectively used to build an atmosphere of secrecy and tension, and the sudden ending left us all eager to follow the drama in the remainder of this work.


Next on the agenda was The Singing Bone a slight piece loosely based on a tale by the Brothers Grimm written with children in mind, taking on Mahler's not-quite-an-opera Das Klagende Lied, a powerful setting of the same story. Sadly there did not appear to be any children in the audience (an earlier scheduling might have been more suitable?) as the whimsical jokiness of the libretto would surely have appealed.  The musical scoring for flute, harp and xylophone was simplistic but fairly sparky, but I would have hoped for far more from the three singers.  Words needed to be crystal clear and, even in a concert performance, a far greater measure of characterisation was needed to bring the piece alive.   But the whole purpose of the festival is to present work-in-progress, and clearly there is room for development on this piece, which will be staged 2 September in the Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston: http://www.arcolatheatre.com/354.


A couple of Lite Bites in the foyer [pictured above] were welcome additions to the evening’s entertainment.  These 5-minute operatic fragments are pure street theatre, attracting the attention of passers-by as well as adding some real festive spirit to the occasion.

Serena Fenwick


See also Andrew Clements in The Guardian reviewing The Weatherman & The Emergency Recital from Tête à Tête Opera Festival 2009.
*Our press ticket policy remains the same for the Festival and the Tour at the present time. We do review this annually. Press Office, Glyndebourne Productions Ltd 2/8/06