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 the part of Strephon next to the excellent Lisa House as Phyllis. Photo courtesy of Gale Foster.
I can’t help but think that White Horse Opera should do more comedies. It brings out the best in both the performers and the audience. My three favourite main opera productions with the company (not counting touring productions) have to be La Sonnambula (The Sleepwalker), Orpheus in the Underworld and this production of Iolanthe. In each production the chorus was a key component and heavily involved. Not only that, but thanks to the vision and management of Graham Billing and Chrissie Higgs each member of the chorus was an individual character. For example in La Sonnambula each performer was encouraged to create their own character quirks and decide what their role was in the town. In Orpheus each chorus member was a particular god and then a party-goer in the underworld. Finally in Iolanthe, both male and female choruses were customised. For the female fey, their magic wands were all different as were their outfits. The male lords had very different costumes to each other and some brandished wine glasses, trumpets and even a hunting rifle!
I believe this gave each performer more buy-in to their parts which in turn provided more energy on stage. Being able to feed off this energy and react to it gave both the principles and the audience is why the show was a success and received so much positive feedback. The other reason for its success was Roland Melia’s orchestra. The Musical Director stripped the original orchestra by half to just include a flute, violin, keyboard, cello, clarinet, percussion, oboe and trumpet. Any parts not being played by the other parts, the very talented Tony James was asked to fill in on the keyboards. This had the advantage of not only sounding great, but it meant that the singers on stage could be clearly heard. This of couse wouldn’t work if the musicians weren’t of a very high standard. Fortunately, Roland managed to find very talented musicians for these parts.
For Strephon, playing the role straight and with conviction is what worked for me. Thanks to the reactions and energy of the ensemble it was a treat of a role to play!
The cast of Iolanthe with Matt Dauncey as Lord Mountararat.