(seen at the afternoon performance on 16th June 2018). A single line
makes this play almost self-reviewing. Asked to define a "Moderate Soprano" the
reply comes back, "not in ability, but gentle tone." Pretty much a perfect
summary of David Hare's 2015 effort that moves (in revised version) to the West
End from Hampstead.
To be clear, the monkey knows nothing about classical opera, and chalks up "Zoe"
and "4.48 Psychosis" as the only modern opera it has ever seen. Like most
everyone, it regarded Glyndebourne as elitist and very English. Only one turns
out to be true. Founder Captain John Christie (Roger Allam) set the ticket price
at £1 (£1 10s after the opening night) and kept the auditorium dark until after
the bows to keep the public in, thus making certain it was an "occasion."
The productions themselves, and the legend they have inspired, were the work of
a German duo and an Austrian. All three fleeing Nazi Germany for reasons
Christie struggles to understand, but given moving vent here, their knowledge
and reputations were sufficient to attract talent from the blighted continent to
a field near Lewes, once within hearing distance of the World War One guns.
Professor Carl Ebert (Anthony Calf) has a gravity which belies quiet passion,
Calf rather wonderful against similarly aged Allam, bringing both performances
to the fore by means of contrast. As ousted conductor Dr Fritz Busch, Paul
Jesson's anger and bewilderment at sudden dissociation from what he knows are
clear and painful to watch. Even more painful, Jewish Rudolf Bing (Jacob
Fortune-Lloyd) gets a pair of wince-inducing moments way beyond the age he is
supposed to play.
And there is Nancy Carroll. The "moderate soprano" of the title, married to an
infatuated Christie and jockeying for position in the new Opera House. Carroll
does wonders with the time-shifting script Hare imposes. Sometimes at the height
of her life, other times invalid, and never actually singing, we are convinced
that here is a a forgotten and under-valued talent, whether true or not.
To return to the beginning, the play itself really is gentle, reminding the
monkey of the "new" plays it first saw at the start of its own theatregoing in
the mid 1980s. Always aiming for a certain intellectual rigour, carefully chosen
language and an avoidance of swearing or anything that might cause offence
purely for the sake of it. Rather refreshing, given what is commissioned now.
Perhaps the odd moment is superfluous (though cuts made seem to be more than
satisfactory). This is simply a well acted, well produced and well directed
production suitable for an adult audience seeking moderately challenging yet
easily digested fare.