Reviewed by Kym Clayton
Opera Goes West is an innovative fusion of three seldom heard miniature operas. Emerging company No Tenors Allowed, in just their second production, have unleashed their creativity once again by staging three very different works–by three very different composers–as if they were Acts 1,2 and 3 of the same opera. And although there are some flaws it works very well indeed!
Act 1 comprises Jacques Offenbach’s The Two Blind Men in which two (supposedly) blind beggars (played by Andrew Crispe and Ian Andrew) compete with each other for the best position to dupe passers-by out of their money. One plays a trombone, and the other a mandolin, and they are forever trying to outdo each other with storytelling and antics. The original opera is set on a bridge in Paris, but producer Blake Parham has staged the action in front of a saloon somewhere in the Wild West. Conductor Ian Boath swaps between the baton and the trombone and Ian Andrew mimes perfectly.
Act 2 segues into the saloon where we find a game of cards in progress– bridge to be precise –between two bored married couples. Composed by Samuel Barber, A Hand of Bridge is an engaging and clever work of about 10 minutes and provides a satirical look at suburban life. As the contract of five hearts is played out, we hear the innermost thoughts of players. Sally (Bethany Ide) wants a new hat, while her husband Bill (Ian Andrew) thinks about a former lover. They both give splendid performances. On the opposing team Geraldine (Brooke Window) laments that she should have shown her dying mother more love when she was well, and her husband David (Spencer Darby), a lowly bank clerk, longs for greater status and fortune. They both epitomise lost opportunity. The four jazz-inflected ariettas are witty and their moods were well captured by the cast.
The cast changed costumes for Act 3 which comprised George Gershwin’s jazz opera Blue Monday. Elsewhere in the saloon we are introduced to gambler Joe and his girlfriend Vi, but trouble brews when she receives unwelcome advances from Tom. He is unable to get his way and so he tries to convince Vi that Joe is in receipt of a telegram from a secret lover. Vi becomes very jealous and tragedy ensues.
The cast are all trained and experienced singers and vocally the performance was fine. They all sang with assurance and accurate pitching, and John Green injected warmth of tone and maturity into Act 3. Ian Boath’s musical direction was tight, and the eight piece ensemble was well balanced, with Tanika Richards providing excellent accompaniment from the piano as well as playing the role of the café pianist in Act 3. Benjamin Galbraith’s set design was minimalist but satisfying, and his costume plot was excellent. Light by Anastasia Farley was suitably moody. On opening night, despite a blitz of positive production elements, the show was uneven in its pace. Musical theatrical performances, including opera, need to be moved, and although Sue Pole’s choreography partly solved the problem in Act 3, there needed to be more. There was scope for additional ‘business’ during the musical bridges, and especially in Act 2 (even though it was a card game!)
Overall co-directors Graham Self and Blake Parham have produced an intriguing and enjoyable piece of theatre, and you didn’t have to be an opera buff to enjoy it. If you missed it, make sure you support No Tenors Allowed next time they come to a theatre near you. They guarantee there will be no fat ladies and no Viking helmets – just talented young performers and good music, and there’s sure to be an interesting twist as well!