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Tête à Tête Opera Festival – We Sing/I Sang – Review

We Sing/I sang - photo by Claire Shovelton
We Sing/I sang – photo by Claire Shovelton

Opera back in London! And not just opera, but experimental, cutting edge work. We Sing/I Sang is a completely improvised opera performed by a singer, viola player and movement artiste. In fact, Leo Doulton, who was responsible for the concept and structure of the piece said that the dress rehearsal was totally different from the performance that I witnessed. It is a work in which the audience interacts with the performers/improvisers by using their mobile phones to answer questions. The answers are moderated by Erika Gundesen, music director, and displayed on a screen for both the performers to see and use in their improvisations as well as the audience. In the performance that I saw on Zoom, the words were not always displayed clearly enough for those watching, which was a shame.

Leo Doulton’s idea was to enable a piece of theatre and ritual that would draw “on the audience’s experiences and stories to create a new collective Mind each night. Its world will be built and lost over the course of the evening” – in fact, 50 minutes.

The superb viola player, producing a very rich sound indeed, was Hannah Gardiner, a founder member of the Brompton String Quartet.

The one singer was C N Lester, “co-founder of the UK’s first national youth queer organisation” (to quote their website) and who possesses not only a rich mezzo-soprano voice but also the ability to enunciate very clearly which greatly aided communication with the audience. They were positioned upstage left, and the viola upstage right throughout the piece, leaving most of the stage available for the movement/mime artiste, Leo Doulton himself, attired in a striking black and white mask, who in fact rarely left centre stage.

Musically the opera often had the feel of Benjamin Britten, being, unsurprisingly, very spare in texture but not unmelodic, though it did all proceed at a similar pace. However, the effect was almost hypnotic, gradually drawing one into the “collective consciousness… schisms and cracks” of the work.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the whole piece was the realisation that it was all improvised. Clearly the other members of the audience, about twenty-five of them, very much appreciated the opera which, though highly experimental, was well worth watching and being involved with.

The website states that it is suitable for all ages: perhaps not quite all! But certainly recommended for those who enjoy experimental, challenging, innovative work.

4 stars

Review by John Groves

The Mind journeys across the stars, a harmonious collective consciousness of peoples from a now-lost world. It sings to itself, far more than any individual could be – but, while reflecting on the past, its individual fragments emerge and try to remember what they once were. Drawn into memories of the crisis, the Mind begins to schism and crack.

An improvised opera and ritual, drawing on the audience’s experiences and stories to create a new collective Mind each night. Its world will be built and lost over the course of the evening.
Concept & Structure: Leo Doulton

Music Director: Erika Gundesen
Voice: CN Lester
Viola: Hannah Gardiner
https://www.tete-a-tete.org.uk/

Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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