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The Bear + And I Decided . . .

by on 7 September 2022

Mind Games

The Bear

by William Walton, libretto by Paul Dehn and William Walton from the play by Anton Chekhov

And I Decided …

by Daniel Felsenfeld, libretto by Robert Coover, Will Eno and Jennie Ketcham

Opera at Home at the Arcola Theatre until 7th September

Review by Heather Moulson

I was looking forward to catching the seventh week of the Grimeborn Opera Festival at this cutting-edge theatre off Dalston Lane, for a double bill of somewhat singular opera.  I have seen edgy theatre there before, and Grimeborn’s aim to see opera differently was alluring.  I settled down in Studio One amidst the full, predominately middle-class audience … the Bohemians staying at home presumably. 

Opening up to The Bear, an operatic parody on Chekov’s play of the same name, the solitary pianist, Daniel Felsenfeld played a haunting introduction, lulling us into the great man’s bleak humour and sardonic wit.  A dark and sombre set with a grieving widow, Popova, sitting in black alongside her outspoken maid Lusha, the former’s grief turning to anger and disillusionment with her late husband.  The smartly dressed, vibrant presence of Smirnov, a peasant landowner, turned events around as he confronted the aristocratic widow for outstanding debts.  Mind games were edgy and played with real wit, to the point of turning to pistols, before he realised how much he loved her.  So much so, he would waive the deceased’s debt to pursue the snobbish and alluring Popova.

Popova, played by Miriam Sharrad had a stunning voice and real stage presence. While Alastair Sutherland bought in comic relief, and robust passion as the hapless peasant, his own voice robust and resonant.  The resigned and surly maid was well played by Violetta Gawara.  Delivered with perfect diction, the tragic humour was tangible.  However, despite the tightness of the set and plot, it could have been less static.  The maid for instance, had her back to our side of the avenue theatre the whole time and not really doing any justice to us or her. 

The Bear’s director Alexia Mankovskaya, the artistic director of Opera at Home, together with the musical director Jan Karl Rautio, have created a production that was a worthy part of the Grimeborn Opera Festival 2022. 

The second short opera of the evening And I Decided… was a multimedia presentation

After being introduced to three women’s case studies and their vague backgrounds, the first aria was Alice in the Time of the Jabberwock.  Alice, played by Violetta Gawara, is the child heroine of Alice in Wonderland now seen in adulthood.  However, despite Gawara’s stunning voice, it was hard to gauge the words.  With an impressive back screen of video art by Anastasia Tikhonova, they could have got away with subtitles.  Downloading the impressive text from the app in the foyer, the writing was sharp and clever but sadly was thrown away. 

Nora came on next, yes, that one from The Dolls House, which really should have been intriguing.  Despite having a beautiful voice, the singer Helen Karikari was not always audible.  The slick words could do nothing for us. 

Alexia Mankovskaya was more animated as the last case study, a sex worker and victim of abuse, but somehow it was too late, and we knew our 55 minutes were up.  I felt particularly sad, as I lost a lot of her valid points too. 

However, it was a bold and intelligent venture, and a great concept and statement. 

Heather Moulson, September 2022

Photography by Anastasia Tikhonova and Sergei Sarakhanov

From → Arcola Theatre, Opera

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