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)
Arts & Ents blogs
Never before seen personal accounts of Great War offer vivid picture of life at the Front
Neil Patrick Harris talks shooting 'robotic' Gone Girl sex scene with Rosamund Pike
Boy George: Bad karma
PonoMusic: Neil Young reaches Kickstarter target to fund new music player within a day
Disney's Frozen is 'very evil' gay propaganda, says Christian pastor
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
No EU referendum under Labour: Ed Miliband to reveal that vote on membership is ‘unlikely’ in next Parliament if party wins power
Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
Fracking is turning the US into a bigger oil producer than Saudi Arabia
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
The quiet diplomat: Catherine Ashton - recognised and admired in all the world’s troubled countries, yet ridiculed at home
- 1 Hells of residence: Inside Macedonia's horrifying student accommodation - where the walls are green and the food is black
- 2 Girl found in the Amazon rainforest with neighbour Grover Morales after going missing for 7 months
- 3 Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
- 4 Rampaging elephant smashes up house but then 'saves crying baby trapped under debris'
- 5 Disney's Frozen is 'very evil' gay propaganda, says Christian pastor