The Opera Revue:
Music by Verdi, Mozart, Rossini, Flanders & Swann, Bizet, Noel Coward, Bernstein, Montsalvatge, Gershwin, Puccini and Lehár
With Scheherazade Pesante, Anando Mukerjee, Anja Rossau, John Mullis and Dominic Barrand
Derek Carden (keyboards)
Tim Heath – host, deviser and director
Reviewed by: Michael Darvell
Reviewed: 26 July, 2007
Venue: Battersea Barge, London
Is it possible to be really funny about classical music and opera? Probably the most well-known funny man in this business was the late Victor Borge, a pianist of undoubted skill, not to say genius, who found a niche in the entertainment business and became known to the world through his live appearances and television concerts. He obviously loved the music, which is why he could send it up. His ‘Musical Punctuation’ still has the power to instil hysterics. Similarly with Anna Russell and her ‘lectures’ on Wagner, which really only told the truth about music but hilariously and in an ironic way. And in the 1950s and 60s we had Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, an actor and musician that produced a winning selection of songs, often with a satirical musical connection. Two long-running theatre shows, “At the Drop of a Hat” and “At the Drop of Another Hat” came out of their blessed collaboration.
Borge and Russell are not featured in Opera UK’s delightful “The Opera Revue”, but Flanders and Swann are, including “Ill Wind”, the sad tale of a man who has lost his French horn. It is sung by John Mullis, the businessman and arts patron who, when he retired from his day job, decided to start his own opera company, Opera UK has in just eighteen months staged nine productions and is now touring some small-scale shows including “The Opera Revue”. Although it is devised by director Tim Heath, much of the show contains sentiments that Mullis must wholeheartedly endorse.
The opening scene is called ‘Opera: what does it mean?’ It asks many questions but there are not too many answers, quote: “Why have we paid so much / For that double dutch?” and “Where has the budget gone / And did they even have one?” By the end of the evening they are still asking the same questions: “What’s the use, what’s the use / It’s expensive to produce and expensive to go to.” The only firm conclusion comes from a quotation from Theophile Gautier: “A visit to the opera rests one”. Ah!
En route “The Opera Revue” presents a series of Opera Beasts, including such beastly humans as the Duke in “Rigoletto” and the Count in “The Marriage of Figaro” as well as the more regular animals as depicted in Rossini’s “Cats’ Duet” performed with catlike tread by Scheherazade Pesante and Anja Rossau. More beasts come in the form of Flanders & Swann’s “Madeira, m’dear” and the “Gnu Song”, which John Mullis performs with lubricious lugubriousness. Among the Opera Disasters depicted in the show is the production of “Don Giovanni” which refused to let the villainous hero descend into Hades, at which point a members of the audience piped up with: “Hell must be full!” Another disaster was the production of “Carmen” in which a giant sheep-dog wandered on to the stage and became entranced by the conductor’s baton. It all, of course, ended in tears.
There’s an ‘Interfered-with Carmen’ with Scheherazade Pesante giving her all, Dominic Barrand urging Mrs Worthington not to put her daughter on the stage, and Tim Heath as Noel, complete with dressing gown, performing Coward’s witty send-up of the opera repertoire in a litany of clever lyrics. Heath also appears in a fright wig to announce that ‘I want to sing in opera’. The evening continues on a more serious note with some lovely zarzuelas by Xavier Montsalvatge performed with the utmost delicacy by Scheherazade, and Bernstein’s ‘Glitter and Be Gay’ (“Candide”) by Anja Rossau who copes well with all the trills in the most fiendishly florid piece of coloratura writing imaginable.
Finally in ‘Summertime an’ wintertime’ Scheherazade sings the Gershwin classic (from “Porgy and Bess”) beautifully, followed by Anja and Anando Mukerjee in arias from “La bohème”, in which they hold the stage and the audience in awe. With honourable accompaniment by Derek Carden on keyboards, this is a charming evening’s entertainment that would please both the opera buff and the musical novice. It worked well on the Battersea Barge, an unusual but very welcoming venue near Battersea Power Station that offers good food and entertainment at modest prices. You could even book your own Opera Revue for any type of private party or celebration.