Reviewing Puss in Boots

I was very pleased to be asked to review Tessitoura’s latest production. If you’re anything like me, then you will be a bit sketchy on the story of Puss in Boots and get it mixed up with other storybook cats and that version of Puss in Boots from a popular an animated movie franchise. Like Shrek, the story does involve an ogre as well as royalty but that’s where the comparisons end.

The fairy tale story itself dates back to Italy in the 16th century and was again published in France in the 17th century.  The operatic version was composed by César Cui in 1913 with libretto by Marina Stanislavovna Pol’.  It follows the plot of Perrault’s 17th century French adaptation with instrumental introduction and dances inserted. Tessitoura manages to fit this short three-act opera into a single, flowing performance.

I won’t go into the story here, but rest assured it is easy enough to follow.  The cat is played with style and great expression by the director Sophie Kirk-Harris. Aside from her excellent singing, she manages to add cat mannerisms to her performance as well as the bravado required to play such a confident feline character! The singing is of an exceptionally high standard throughout the cast and the acting is very strong, including Thomas Wood’s innocent portrayal of Jean, the poor miller’s son, Robert Marson’s enthusiastic energy and entranced looks of the King, Jennifer Walker’s majestic and moving performance as the Princess and not forgetting Harry Benfield’s lumbering and terrifying Ogre.

The children are of course, the stars of the show in their own right.  They provide a sense of
the story and give the plot meaning through their actions and reactions with the other characters. Their expressions and dancing are fantastic and the singing is very good, especially in the show’s final song.

If you get the chance to see it, please do. Go and you too will be transported into this very charming fairy tale opera.  You can catch it at the Mackay Theatre, Clifton on Sunday 19th and 26th of November when there will be performances at both 2pm and 4pm.

Playing Doctor Bartolo

This week, I will perform with Tessitoura, a Bristol-based opera company that performs in unique spaces with a small but very talented group of singers and musicians.  This project is Rossini’s masterpiece, The Barber of Seville (1816). It follows the fortunes of The Count Almaviva, Rosina, Doctor Bartolo, Don Basilio to name but a few.  Oh, and a certain barber called Figaro.  This very special opera was based on Pierre Beaumarchais’ French comedy Le Barbier de Seville (1775) and is the first of a trilogy, the second of which – The Marriage of Figaro – was famously adapted into an opera by Mozart (1786).

I play the main villain of the piece, or perhaps more truthfully fodder for the Count’s trickery and Figaro’s scheming.  He is a physician and Rosina’s guardian, but he has grander schemes in mind involving marriage and money. This role appears to be the exact opposite of Enrico in Donizetti’s Il Campanello di Notte (The Night Bell) in which I was a bugs bunny-esque rogue.  Now I am Elmer Fudd!

So what is needed in preparing for the role of the Doctor Bartolo?

The role certainly requires an ability to say things quickly, as with the pitter-patter song, A un dottor dell mia sorte.  Otherwise it requires a mix of comic timing and a hint of malevolence.  But mainly, it is a straight-role, being a yin to the Count’s yang.  If he is outrageous, be grounded, and when the Count is calm, then Doctor Bartolo will no doubt be pacing the stage, raging (again, think Bugs and Fudd).  He is also an older man so I need to modify my behaviour to suit that persona.  I even have a prop (a cane) and a bow tie!

It should be lots of fun. The cast is very talented and Rossini’s music, sublime!  If you are looking for something to do this weekend, then do consider coming along!  It will be performed in St Matthew’s Church in Kingsdown Bristol, St. Mary’s Church in Stoke Bishop Bristol and the medieval barn in Winterbourne.     It’s also in support of the Above and Beyond charity.