Orpheus in the Underworld, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
The Rape of Lucretia / The Marriage of Figaro, Peacock Theatre, London
What's left after Bremner vajazzles Offenbach? A dash of bunga bunga and some baby wipes
Handbag at the ready, her suit a collage of screaming newspaper headlines, here comes Public Opinion!
The voice is strident, the sentiments unalloyed by doubt. Public Opinion is pro-marriage, anti-adultery, and has two million readers! So forget the fact that your late wife was a two-timing bimbo with silicone breasts and the brain of a pea! Get down to Hades and bring her back!
Rory Bremner's new translation of Orpheus in the Underworld toys with contemporary archetypes in the manner of a broadsheet reader flicking through a red top. In addition to Máire Flavin's Public Opinion, there's a vajazzled Essex girl (Jane Harrington's Eurydice), a libidinous personal trainer (Gavan Ring's Pluto), an adulterous autocrat (Brendan Collins's Jupiter), a host of champagne-swilling dilettantes (Daire Halpin's Diana, Marie Claire Breen's Venus, Christopher Diffey's Mercury), and a disgraced banker (Ross McInroy's John Styx). Meanwhile, Offenbach's composer hero (Nicholas Sharratt) is an effete lounge lizard.
There are references to phone-hacking and bunga bunga, an unusually suggestive application of "quantitative easing", and a plug for Strictly Come Dancing, in which Bremner himself will have appeared by the time you read this. As to satire, does quoting the Go Compare ad count? Aside from Styx's stuttering repetition of the first syllable of "country", and Offenbach's orgasmic cadenza in the "Fly Duet", there is little to offend the ears of the good people of Stornoway – where this show is heading. What happens on stage in Oliver Mears's knicker-sniffing, crotch-rubbing Scottish Opera/NI Opera co-production is another matter.
The funniest moments are supplied by designer Simon Holdsworth, whose giant drop-cloth mock-ups of a celebrity magazine (Hi!) and red-top tabloid express succinctly the culture that Bremner is parodying. For the rest, there is plucky singing and some eye-popping activity with baby-wipes and truncheons. Offenbach's music survives, but only just. Having played The Seven Deadly Sins so seductively two weeks ago, Scottish Opera's orchestra are absent for most of the Orpheus tour, replaced by a pianist. If Merry Opera can field an ensemble of five players in the upstairs room of a Highgate pub, can't Scotland's national company?
British Youth Opera showcased two young casts in William Kerley's tender production of The Marriage of Figaro and Martin Lloyd-Evans's taut, angry reading of The Rape of Lucretia. Both operas are set on the cusp of revolution. Where Kerley focused on the intimate exchange of glances and glares between social classes, Lloyd-Evans brought sculptural clarity to a difficult work.
Lucretia is clouded with piety by librettist Ronald Duncan, and muddled by Britten's ambiguous sensualising of night with drowsy flute and glissando bass. Here the Male (Alexander Sprague) and Female (Elin Pritchard) Chorus were complicit, releasing the brawling, bragging soldiers from their long slumber, serving them wine. To Tarquinius (Ashley Riches), Lucretia's chastity is a provocation, an act of political resistance. Asleep on her altar-like bed, Lucretia (Rowan Hellier) looked like the marble effigy of St Cecilia in Trastevere, another Roman martyr.
Sung with fierce sweetness by Hellier, the role was nonetheless too low for her. As Bianca, Kate Symonds-Joy had more of the depthless darkness needed, a foil to Sónia Grané's flittering Lucia. Conductor Peter Robinson kept the Southbank Sinfonia cool and alert. Their lack of sentiment was admirable, as was the discipline and purity of Susannah Henry's set designs.
In the Mozart, conductor Alexander Ingram favoured sharp accents and a brisk pulse, circumventing the usual death-by-beauty sluggishness of Act II. Eleanor Dennis was an unusual Countess: a feisty, generous singer and the only character to communicate sexual drive. John Savournin's Count was less a bully than a louche chancer, Katie Bray's Cherubino too young a boy to act on his fantasies, Ellie Laugharne and Matthew Stiff's Susanna and Figaro were so cosy they might have been married 20 years. Small roles such as Antonio (Matthew Kellett) were impactful. If Kerley down-played the political tensions between master and servant, the ensemble work was joyful.
'Orpheus' (0141 429 0022) 4pm today, then touring Scotland, Northern Ireland and London
There's murder, farce and transfiguration as Anna Picard sees all three operas in Puccini's Il trittico
In London, Richard Jones's new productions of Suor Angelica and Il tabarro join a revival of his Gianni Schicchi in a rare run of Puccini's Il trittico at the Royal Opera House (from Mon). Elsewhere, Welsh National Opera launches its season with a new production of Don Giovanni, at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff (from Fri).
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