Too much ‘Art’ – not enough sausage.
Then, ev’n of fellowship, O Moon, tell me
Is constant love deem’d there but want of wit?
Philip Sidney asked questions of the Moon in 1582, wondering if constancy there was as scorned as it is on earth – in 1920, Janáček and assorted librettists gave us a Moon of fantasy to where the ‘hero’ escapes the frustrations of Earth only to find that lunar life is just as frustrating as that in Prague. Wasfi Kani’s ‘warning’ prepared the audience for the frankly bonkers activities in store, although the very different second half may have proved a challenge for those not conversant with 15th century Czech history, meaning most of us. When David Pountney directed the opera for English National Opera back in 1992, the humour was gentler and the staging more romantic, but this time around both his no holds barred translation and his production put it all out there in no uncertain terms.
Grange Park Opera focuses very much on engaging the best singers for their parts, and here the stage was full of them. Mark Le Brocq excelled in several roles, his remarkably flexible tenor ringing out gloriously in diverse characterizations, most notably as the would-be romantic lover Mazal. It was a delight to see Clive Bayley, more usually portraying sombre old men, cavorting in a silver suit and spangled shoes and of course singing with his customary grace, and Andrew Shore’s Bartender and Privy Councillor were both as superbly characterized as you’d expect.
From the zealous Christian martyr Theodora to the blowsy daughter of the Sakristán here, is quite a leap within two days, and Fflur Wyn convinced in both roles, as she did in her more serious impersonations in the second half. Peter Hoare’s Brouček was a lovable rather than reprehensible drunkard, his singing as polished as his antics were (intentionally) chaotic. Adrian Thompson, he of surely the most diverse cameo roles in opera, made his usual significant mark in no fewer than four parts, that clear tenor as precise as ever. Anne-Marie Owens had just the one role, but her stage presence and rich tones made it a special one.
“Wasfi Kani’s ‘warning’ prepared the audience for the frankly bonkers activities in store…”
Pasquale Orchard’s ‘Child Prodigy’ succeeded in being delightful rather than annoying, and both Jonathan Kennedy and Robin Horgan made much of the roles of Postdatedcek and Spotcek. The chorus were outstanding, responding enthusiastically to the demands of the staging, and the five dancers were remarkable; in fact Lynne Hockney’s choreography was one of the delights of the evening.
To say that Leslie Travers’ designs and Marie-Jean Lecca’s costumes were wonderfully outrageous seems an understatement; from the affected lunar aesthetes to the sombre ‘ambulant statues’ of the city dignitaries, everything exploded with vibrant colour and life, aided by the lambent quality of Tim Mitchell’s lighting. The BBC Concert Orchestra under George Jackson brought all that vibrancy to the fore, fizzing with energy in the first act and sympathetically shaping Janáček’s glorious melodies in the second. Even if you don’t much care for the ‘kooky’ quality of the tale, you can certainly relish all the foretastes of Káťa Kabanová and The Cunning Little Vixen which keep floating through the music.
Not many of the audience escape mild censure in this opera; rich patrons, corporate sponsors and affected aesthetes are particular targets, as indeed are music critics, but this one was happy to take it in good spirit in such an entertaining presentation.
• Details of future performances can be found here.