Tea and Opera, Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham
Tuesday 15 July 2008
It's doubtful if the drinking song from La Traviata has ever been sung to the clinking of teacups, but the Cheltenham Music Festival's Fine Tea Tasting and Opera event was something of a first in every respect. Not many concerts of operatic excerpts are preceded by a short film about the processing of leaves from Camellia sinensis assamica. But Mackwoods, whose single-estate tea leaves from Sri Lanka were being infused here, were out to educate us in the art of tea-drinking.
How much would the taste in our mouths affect what we heard, or the other way round? Would an excerpt from Carmen bring out the smokiness in the Labookellie Broken Orange Pekoe? Or might the intensity of an aria from Bach's St John Passion heighten the astringency of Dolloswela Pekoe? Faced with a bewildering array of leaves, strainers, infusers, supping spoons and flashy spittoons, we were led by a team of experts flown in from the family plantation in Sri Lanka.
In between the half-dozen teas, Gareth Hancock accompanied the Australian soprano Gillian Ramm and New Zealand tenor Shaun Dixon in a selection of solos and duets. Not a whisper from Madama Butterfly (wrong country of origin, wrong tea ceremony), naturally. The links between music and char, however, were tenuous to say the least. Actually, Mimi might have benefited from a nice hot cuppa as Rodolfo sang of her tiny, frozen hand ("Che gelida manina"), while the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro must have wished she could read the tea leaves as she longed for happier times in "Dove sono". Ramm's subtle characterisation of a rejected woman and her ease in Mozart's exquisite melodic line made it all the more emotionally charged, leaving a bitter taste. That was the aria, not the tea, of course.
Tea cultivation and high culture make for a curious brew, though there was some subtlety to the numbers and – matching the mint tisane, at least – a genuinely fresh flavour. But to complement the company's 160th anniversary blend, a connoisseur's beverage, what about Vincent Youman and Irving Caesar's jazz hit "Tea for Two"?
The festival runs to 19 July (01242 227 979)
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
- 4 The Greece debt crisis explained in less than 100 words
- 5 Cristiano Ronaldo storms out of interview after being asked about possible sale of Manchester United target Sergio Ramos
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
Chronixx interview: Reggae sensation on taking the opening spot at Glastonbury and calling Barack Obama a 'waste man'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director Jack Bender says showrunners 'communicate closely' with George RR Martin
Amy Winehouse film: Mark Ronson praises 'respectful' movie as it scores highest ever UK opening for British documentary
Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts