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Unknowing at Tristan Bates Theatre – Review

UnknowingTeatime Opera present Unknowing as ‘a story of love’, using music from Schumann’s Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und Leben. Directed by Matthew Monaghan, this two-hander charts the meeting of lovers, who, through a series of misunderstandings and jealousies, cannot forge a future together, and must part. Using various props and objects, the journey of this love story is charted and the story made clear for novice opera-goers (like me).

Performers Christine Cunnold and David Jones are passionate with a wonderful presence, and of course have beautiful voices, dramatizing their roles with nuance and agility. However, there are various elements of this show that were unclear; why the performers were dressed in traditional opera garb is a mystery, when the characters might have been more relatable clad in jeans and battered Converse, for instance. Moreover, the German poem ‘Unknowing’, upon which this production is based, is also somewhat traditional.

Although beautifully translated into English by David Parry, the moments of comedy and lightness are sparse, and the drama and darkness inherent in their story dominates. Indeed, I wondered why this couple ever got together in the first place: they didn’t seem to have much fun. Moreover, whilst ‘His’ story deals with jealousy, rage, mental illness, and artistic ineptitude, ‘Her’ story is somewhat duller, with her desire for an engagement ring and a baby being at the forefront. I would have loved to see the character roles reversed for a more modern, engaging take on this classic tale.

However, perhaps the idea was not necessarily to ‘modernise’ the story. Certainly, the music is affecting and dramatic (excellently put together by Richard Harker), and if you enjoy opera, Unknowing is definitely worth a watch. At an hour in length, and with a simple, flexible set, this production will no doubt be a popular choice on the festival circuit, and as a young company, Teatime Opera no doubt have a bright future ahead.

3 Star Review

Review by Amy Stow

Can we ever really know the person we think we love?
Unknowing plots the turbulent, intense and violent relationship between two lovers. Based on Schumann’s Dichterliebe and Fraulieben und Leben, the piece is a poetic meditation on love’s creative and destructive power. Translation by celebrated conductor David Parry; direction by Matthew Monaghan (ENO, RADA).

Olivier-Award winning libretti translator and composer, David Parry, has created a new poignant English translation of Schumann’s most well known song cycles; at once bringing to life Schumann’s incredible music in a dramatic and accessible way.

UNKNOWING
music by R. Schumann, devised by M. Monaghan
Tue 29 Nov – Sat 3 Dec 2016
https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/

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