Mozart's The Impresario

Sat 4th – Sun 12th August 2012

reviews

Laura Peatman

at 17:21 on 11th Aug 2012

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In the mélange of the weird and wacky offerings of the Fringe, a Mozart opera may seem a rather conservative option; yet I was surprisingly delighted by the freshness of this production from the relatively young talent of the Melos Sinfonia. With sharp diction, impressive musical panache and an irrepressible sense of fun, the ensemble of four put on a polished and laugh-out-loud performance.

The cast is comprised of two double acts who play off each other brilliantly: Samuel Carl was fantastically over-the-top as Frank, the eponymous “impresario and regular lothario”, whilst Bradley Smith provided the perfect foil for this eccentricity in the form of long-suffering manservant, Buff. On the female side, the clashing but equally diva-ish powerhouses of Hilda Herz and Bonnie Silverton (Nazan Fikret and Victoria Atkinson respectively) brought both comedy and the most impressive vocal performances of the show. Fikret must be commended on the purity and richness of her tone, and challenged Carl for the most brilliantly exaggerated characterisation of the night. Atkinson skilfully negotiated complex runs and navigated the break in her voice with ease. Carl’s very occasional trip-up over lines can be forgiven in such a wordy script, and was more than made up for by his elaborate gesturing, while Smith veered between much-needed sanity and comic desperation, blending his rich voice beautifully with the female leads. Truthfully, I cannot pick out any individual cast member above another, as all shone in equal measures.

This is famously a dialogue-heavy opera, yet the orchestra was certainly not relegated to a mere supporting role: the musicians were equally as important and impressive as the vocalists, playing confidently with smooth lines and phrasing. It was nice to see that, in a venue with no pit, they were not hidden away or awkwardly crammed in. Taking up a large proportion of the stage area, they interacted with the cast and brought their own humorous elements into the show: for example, the lead violinist who read her copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ between numbers, while another filed her nails. It was another small but delightful touch that gave this show its charm.

The set is minimalistic to the point of non-existent, but after approximately ninety seconds I stopped noticing, as the cast threw themselves into the show, using all the space of the simple staging – and their fabulous costumes – for comic visual effect. This combination of physicality and visuals with almost Wilde-esque dialogue worked a treat, and particularly effective were the nods to contemporary culture that littered this rewriting of the script: references to ‘I’m A Celebrity’, Susan Boyle, The Guardian and the Classical Brits all elicited appreciative laughs from the enthusiastic audience. Sexual innuendo and seductive dance moves were far from the Mozart tradition in which we began, but only added to the humour: conductor, company founder and one half of the script re-writing duo Oliver Zeffman is evidently an almost sickeningly talented young man.

My one reservation about the piece is its brevity: at an hour, it may be ideal for the Fringe, but it actually encompasses little development of plot and the ending is rather abrupt. I am not an expert on the work, so perhaps there was little more to work with, but it did feel sudden in its dénouement. Yet this does not detract too much from its sense of fun and obvious technical accomplishment: a short, sweet burst of musical and comic delight.

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Leah Eades

at 20:40 on 11th Aug 2012

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As we wait for the show to start, the orchestra who take up almost half the stage in front of us are fine-tuning their instruments and following their composer’s instructions. Suddenly a violinist runs in, dives backstage, re-emerges with instrument and leaps into her seat and – after a stern look – the show begins.

Having never seen an opera, Mozart’s ‘The Impresario’ wouldn’t have been something I’d have naturally gravitated towards – but I’m very glad I did. This unusual mix of comedy and opera (is “comoperady” a thing?) aims to present us with an entire opera, complete with an overture, two arias, a trio and a finale, within just one act.

The orchestra are not the only comic element, although when not performing they pass sweets around, file their nails, chew gum, read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and occasionally interact with the performers, which is a nice touch. The comedy duo, double act Buff (Bradley Smith) and Frank Squallido (Samuel Carl), opened the show with some great farce and witty one-liners based around Frank’s eccentric attitude (he spends most of the beginning in bright orange boxers lecturing us about papaya, to give you some indication of just how eccentric he is. Somehow, it works.) in contrast to the long-suffering straight man Buff, and the two had good on-stage repartee. The play steps up a notch when the men, trying to recruit a new prima donna for their company, end up auditioning sworn rivals Mme. Herz (Nazan Firket) and Mlle. Silverton (Victoria Carl), who basically try to out-diva the other through belting sopranos. The contrast in the two singers’ styles- Mme. Herz is classic, and has a beautiful quality to her voice, whilst Mlle. Silverton boasts a Geordie accent and oodles of sex appeal, all of which make her more commercially popular to the masses – leads to some hilarious and impressive sing-offs, which get the audience involved as Silverton attempts to seduce terrified men in the front row and Herz plays up for more applause.

The hour flew by, and I was sad for the show to end. I found it an enjoyable and interesting introduction to opera, and I would recommend this show to music lovers and theatre fans alike, especially ones who wouldn’t usually go to see something like this. I for one will be seeking out some full-length operas now! The group behind this production, Melos Sinfonia, are a talented and original group of young people, and I hope to see more from them in future.

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