Gesamtkunstwerk in action

I am a bit fan of total art. You know, the kind of experiences that blow your mind… whether it’s a contemporary installation, walking through an incredible stately home or mansion (Newark Park, near Wooton under Edge does it for me, as I always can see myself moving straight in, but it takes me somewhere so different to my own life) or listening to music. Eating some sublime food that takes you somewhere else (I had that the other day, my first cup of lapang souchong tea since leaving university. I was transported emotionally to a different time, a different place, my heart turned somersaults as I remembered that first encounter.)  It’s that catharsis, and at the same time, the call to go through it all again, to repeat, and re-experience, to feel it even more intensely; it is an addiction.

But what really does it for me is opera. I’ve been into it since I was a teenager and had the good fortune to get a free ticket to see Gotterdammerung by Wagner- stalls seat at the Royal Opera House.  I didn’t know that fat ladies could make me cry. I didn’t know that silly costumes could set me blubbing. But at the end, as the curtain came down, tears ran down my face, I felt both emotionally exhausted and yet elated. I was addicted to total art work.

The same thing happened yesterday. I went to see one of the final performances by Opera Up Close, of La Boheme, at the King’s Head Theatre in the Angel, London. The theatre is tucked in the back of the pub, it can only hold, I guess, about one hudnred people, and both times I’ve been lucky enough to see an opera there, I was right at the front- row A for Marriage of Figaro, in November, and row B for yesterday’s performance.  Opera up Close is a touring company, mainly young singers beginning their careers, with great stage presence, excellent acting as well as luminous singing abilities. Unfortunately, they won’t be at the King’s Head anymore, which is a shame, as it is such an intimate environment, you are totally drawn into the action on the stage which is (if in the front row) centimetres from your big toe. You can’t get much closer than that.

Previously I have seen performances in Stroud. Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, in the Stroud Sub Rooms, worked really well as the cast used the whole space, so there was a closeness, an interactivity with the audience, but when the group returned to the Cotswold Playhouse, the much more formal setting was not nearly as successful (although the performance was sublime- Verdi’s Elixir of Love)

La Boheme, set in contemporary times, with the Ukraine illegal immigrant Mimi, Rudolpho trying to make it as a blogger/writer and Marcello faling as a painter, with the second act taking us all into the main pub, for the bar scene, was gritty. The updated translation/adaption made it more so, and the seediness, the raw edginess of the sublime performances, including physically tiring piano accompaniment, was outstanding.

As the lights dimmed on a dead Mimi and distraught friends, there was silence, other than the sniffles of the emotionally transformed audience, who lived every moment with the singers, whose eyes were distinctly moist as they took their bows.

When can I have my next fix, please?


Act 2 ” A bar in Soho


The desolation of the final scene


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