Blind Date marks Tête-à-Tête's happy return to the taster-menu format, dissecting the pleasures and sorrows and vices of a breast-obsessed aristocrat, two homicidal nannies, a fashion designer who may or may not be George Michael's secret love-child, an indiscreet parrot, a diva, two opera critics, and a generation of engineers, dairy-workers, saleswomen, soldiers and foremen from one Toronto suburb in six mini-operas. With influences ranging from Bulgakov to the British sitcom, it's nothing if not diverse. Tightly directed by Bill Bankes-Jones and smartly conducted by Tim Murray, it's a model of economy too.
Three singers share all of the roles. The scoring is tailored to Chroma's expert ensemble of clarinet, violin, horn, cello, flute and tenor trombone, while Tim Meacock's versatile set of 12 red cubes serves as office, apartment, bar, streetscape, and the cramped flat where Kirov (Damian Thantrey) remembers life in pre-Revolutionary Russia and weeps for the "nimble, rustic teeth" of his "Nyanyushka". Composed by Gary Carpenter to a libretto by Simon Nicholson, this is the most amusing and disturbing work in Blind Date: a caustic satire on infantilism and ideological fervour, wrapped in the glowing colours of Mussorgsky and Stravinsky. Chris Mayo and Christopher Crebolder's poignant Houses is also persuasive, with gentle counterpoint hinting at the little dramas behind the affectless intonation of names, dates and addresses from the Canadian archives.
In Anna Meredith and Philip Ridley's on such a day, three faces gaze out from computer screens, their recollections of 9/11 suspended over a Reichian texture of fragmented figures and pedal notes. Of the three comedies, Jason Yarde and Jonzi D's The Big But is a clichéd sketch on celebrity. More successful is The Feathered Friend, extrapolated from a true story by Helen Chadwick and Alasdair Middleton, and sympathetically performed by Susan Atherton (Susie), Thantrey (Harry), and Stephanie Conley (Polly), whose parroting of "I love you... Gary!" reveals Susie's infidelity and seals her own return to the pet shop. In Anger, Julian Grant and Meredith Oakes expertly weave a witty series of quotes from Glass, Mozart, Puccini, Wagner, Janacekand more while two dysfunctional critics squabble over the vocal merits of a diva (Conley) from their seats in the stalls, pens and notebooks in hand. Yes, I blushed.
More blushing at Independent Opera's energetic staging of The Sofa, where director Alessandro Talevi transported Elizabeth Maconchy's subtle fairy-tale into a world of Studio 54 excess, with the witch (Josephine Thorpe) styled, mystifyingly, as Zandra Rhodes. Between the coke-snorting, the transvestism, and Talevi's reading of the Straussian trio as a paean to (implied, unseen) cunnilingus, I spent much of the double-bill in an ecstasy of anxiety over having taken my seven-year old son along. Thankfully he was far too spooked by Zandra to notice the debauchery.
The Lilian Baylis Theatre is a small space for Maconchy's playful blend of sprung strings and seductive woodwind. But the casting was strong, with superb performances from Thorpe, Sarah Tynan (Monique), George von Bergen (Edward) and Nicholas Sharratt as the delinquent three-seater. Dominic Wheeler's conducting was consistently vibrant and expressive, the orchestral performance excellent, the chorus bright, and Louise Poole's poised impersonation of poor, dead Julia in Maconchy's delicate two-hander, The Departure, sensitively phrased and deeply touching.
Ninth opera of the week was Erich Korngold's 1927 sex'*'death epic, Das Wunder der Heliane, which received its UK premiere in a concert performance by Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. There are two ways to look at this rarity: as an opulent masterpiece of late Romantic eroticism, unjustly suppressed by the Nazis, or as a work that is fundamentally silly (F sharp major? Please!) Despite the finest efforts of Patricia Racette (Heliane), Robert Tear (Blind Judge), the orchestra and Jurowski, Korngold's twinkling harps, trilling flutes, glittering celesta, shimmering bell piano and corruscating percussion proved utterly indigestible, the welter of extra brass as heavy as Austrian noodles. And what is one to make of lines like "Let me consummate you!"? I blame the parents. Korngold senior was a music critic. If the LPO is interested in Entartete Musik there are better pieces than this. Meantime, I have vowed to keep family and work separate.
'Blind Date', Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester (0161 907 5555), 26-27 November
Further reading Jessica Duchen's sympathetic biography 'Erich Wolfgang Korngold' (Phaidon)Reuse content