Sunday, 3 April 2016

A night at the discotheque (Birmingham Opera/DNA)

Purcell, Dido and Aeneas (Birmingham Opera Company, cond. Robert Howarth)

Graham Vick’s Birmingham Opera Company is nothing short of miraculous. From across Birmingham people from all backgrounds come together to produce opera like nowhere else. This year, a disused nightclub became the setting for Dido and Aeneas (or #DnA as the posters had it).
It begins with a prelude delivered in rap style. And then after that a short hour of extremely beautiful music. The audience were dragged on (voluntarily) to ‘dance’ after a fashion on 1:1 ratio with the company. I can’t recall that having happened before. It ended with Dido’s Lamen. Chrystal E Williams (Queen Dido) was stunning and having it performed about three foot away from me, I was left shaking and not a little tearful. Breath-taking. 

On arrival the audience mingled with company.

The Orchestra were on a stage at the side of the nightclub

Some singing came from the balcony

 Rather than earth, Dido was buried in a bath tub under dozens of red shiny high-heeled shoes:
Eric Greene, a favourite here was Aeneas and managed to sing whilst carrying Dido. Pretty impressive, non? Another Birmingham Opera moment was Counter-tenor Tai Oney as Sorceress perambulating on the dance floor, in red high heels, was certainly one of them. for magical effect, briefly holding microphone (I am not convinced that amplification was the best thing, but I appreciate it was used for effect rather than as a tool).  
Doing it in a more-or-less proper building made this the most musical evening from the BOC that I’ve seen, simply becuase the acoustics were more favourable than those of a tent. 
Giuseppe Di Iorio, a lighting designer with whom Vick has worked extensively (per. eg. Morgen und Abend and the BOC last year). His trope of shining bright lights in your face (on arrival) was as unwelcome as at Covent Garden, quite frankly. It is unpleasant and I hope not dangerous.
Why bother? Well for one, doing all this in a nightclub serves to put traditional opera-goers out of their comfort zone, so levelling things a bit. What is really on show is Vick’s transformative vision for art, for the social power of culture. Those who might not have felt it their immediate cultural constituency have it laid at their feet. It opens doors for so many. This isn’t someone saying art might change lives; its actually happening before your eyes.

That’s almost as astonishing as the quality of music. 

Full cast:

Queen Dido – Chrystal E Williams
Aeneas – Eric Greene
Belinda –Natalie Montakhab
Sorceress – Tai Oney
Lady – Rozanna Madylus
Sailor – Richard Dowling

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