Second Movement Mozart & Menotti

Menotti
The Medium
Mozart
The Impresario [Libretto by Michael Flexer based on Gottleib’s original as translated by Elizabeth Juen]

Menotti:

Baba – Hannah Pedley
Monica – Allison Bell
Toby – Sean Clayton (non-singing)
Mr Gobineau – Simon Thorpe
Mrs Gobineau – Jane Harrington
Mrs Nolan – Margaret Rapacioli


Mozart:

Hugh McGee – Daniel Leatherdale (non-singing)
Marty Bernstein – Simon Thorpe (non-singing)
Ruth Newman – Hannah Pedley (non-singing)
Rayechka Kopinos – Jane Harrington
Hermione Easton – Allison Bell
Rupert Burns – Sean Clayton
Clare Blane – Margaret Rapacioli (non-singing)


‘Second Movement Orchestra’
Nicholas Chalmers

Oliver Mears – director


Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 25 January, 2006
Venue: Covent Garden Film Studios, Mercer St, London

This enterprising evening – the second production by Second Movement, which aims to give up-and-coming, newly established singers and musicians live performing experience, as well as making productions affordable for the general public – paired Menotti’s signature work with one of Mozart’s fripperies (dismissed in just one paragraph in David Cairns’s new book “Mozart and his Operas”) here given a riotously hilarious modern update by Michael Flexer.

On this evidence director Oliver Mears has a greater touch for comedy than melodrama. Perhaps the critic who greeted “Tosca” with the comment “shabby little shocker” should have waited to see Menotti’s “The Medium”, one of his greatest successes on Broadway, in 1946. This is undoubtedly shabbier, and more shocking in both facets than the more famous Puccini. Perhaps if Opera North continued doing its ‘Eight Little Greats’ it would come in about the fifth or sixth edition as, although much of Menotti’s music is well written, the drama (of a fake medium, suddenly scared that she has herself been visited from beyond the grave, and her subsequent breakdown) is rather tortured.

Amidst a constricted but naturalistic set of a deeply shabby room, the behaviour of all the characters seemed rather mannered, the heightened vocal patterns jarring. One couldn’t fault the commitment of any of the performers, but I was turned off the piece more and more; sub-verismo with little going for it was my final thought. Sean Clayton as the mute servant – who spent the time watching Monica, Baba’s daughter, through the keyhole to her bedroom and who eventually gets his comeuppance by the deranged Baba – epitomised the awkwardness of the piece, while those seeking the services of Baba, the Gobineaus and Mrs Nolan, tried to inject some wide-teethed innocence into the proceedings.

Things improved immeasurably after the interval with another work that has a break of a week between its two acts (or scenes), Mozart’s “The Impresario”. What we have is an overture, two arias and two ensembles from Mozart – not running to any length at all – but here filleted nicely into a satirical hour’s worth about a Jerry Bruckheimer clone (Marty Bernstein, played by Simon Thorpe) producing Hugh McGee’s operatic masterpiece “A Very Special Relationship” about George W and our Tony. There’s just one problem: together with their financial backer Ruth (Hannah Pedley now in a speaking role), they each have their favourites for the leading lady: Ruth, her lover, the impressively endowed (vocally) Rayechka Kopinos (Jane Harrington); Hugh the cerebral Hermione Easton (Allison Bell); and Marty the non-singing, gum-chewing starlet Clare Blane (Margaret Rapacioli).

While Hugh goes spare at the artistic compromises made for him, mostly by Marty, it is Marty who saves the day by persuading Kopinos to take the role of Mrs Thatcher and Easton to sing Condoleezza Rice. Even Buddhist Rupert Burns (at last Sean Clayton, having also played a silent stage-hand to start, gets to sing – and a very pleasing tenor voice he has too) is able to avenge his previous breakdown at the hands of Kopinos with the promise of dropping a house on top of Thatcher’s head (just like Dorothy’s house falls from the sky in “The Wizard of Oz”).

What has it to do with Mozart? Well, all the music is his apart from a contemporary skit in Easton’s first audition piece by a supposed Hungarian composer, whose new work is based on three factors: letters of the alphabet, natural disasters and parts of the female body – we get an excerpt from Volcano Vagina, which is pretty explosive (or perhaps that should be not so pretty!). And if not top-drawer Mozart, it is nicely done, with new witty lyrics that carry well, even in the ensembles.

The cast works well with those ensembles and – with the set for “The Medium” now used as the stage with some action actually happening in front of the stage, at audience level – rises to the occasion both with the slew of dialogue and all the comedy. It is very, very funny – a hit, in fact. Michael Flexer’s adaptation is a joy.

A final word to the orchestral players – unfortunately not listed in the programme and, for the sake of this review, given the title of ‘Second Movement Orchestra’ – who play wonderfully for Nicholas Chalmers. Many of the singers have been at Wexford, and can list a number of concert and stage performances. I suspect we will hear more from all of them and not just in future Second Movement productions.



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