Izzy Cutts is as happy as a pig in five tonnes of mud with Amadis de Gaule
With the last few weeks full of presentations, deadlines and end of term stress, I was looking forward to my relaxing and sophisticated evening at the opera. However, as clearly stated in the director’s note, this production wasn’t going to be relaxing: it was going to be ‘intense’ and ‘cataclysmic’. Which is acceptable too, I guess.
I’m not going to pretend that I understood all of it, but I do know I was really impressed with UCOpera’s performance of such a complex piece.
Amadis de Gaule is a French opera written by a German composer (although UCOpera chose to do the translated version, thank goodness) from the 18th century. It is a mythical story of loyalty, love and a whole lot of murder. Thankfully, there were two intervals, so I could catch up with the plot. This production has taken its inspiration from war photography, and the combination of the traditional music with the modern theatre styles created a cool, post-apocalyptic atmosphere.
The audience entered to J C Bach’s dramatic orchestral score coming from the giant orchestra pit. Then the curtain rose to reveal an abstract set of five tonnes of mud covering the floor, a revolving circle of corrugated iron in the middle, and a variety of debris hanging from the ceiling. Despite the difficulty the cast seemed to have with the revolving part of the stage, the set was used effectively, changing slightly for each act. I particularly enjoyed the effect of the candlelight, but I can’t help but wish the much-hyped mud had been used more.
Hearing the orchestra in the Bloomsbury was a pretty amazing experience; they filled the space easily and the music was beautiful. The voices were all impressive, and although I found it hard to catch all the words, that was probably the fault of my unrefined ear. However, some of the lower parts were definitely lost against the orchestra and I was confused as to why there were no microphones.
I was also unsure about some of the movement scenes with the chorus, and whether they were meant to be out of time or not; they didn’t always feel as polished as the rest of the production. Additionally I found the stage fighting unconvincing and it was, at times, comical. By the time we got to the orgy scene (sex is very in this Bloomsbury season), I was quite confused – but, it was creatively directed and sensitively orchestrated.
I found the second act a lot slower than the first, it not being until the end of the act that the energy picked up, and, in this, some moments of dramatic revelation fell quite flat. However, the final number filled with Romantic heroism and chants for liberty was much stronger (although I wasn’t swayed by the awkward country dancing).
The third act was cathartic, with an ethereal and uplifting finale, and, despite being of marathon length, it didn’t feel drawn out – only mentally exhausting. There was some serious acting talent on display, and overall I would describe it as transfixing.
Much of the production team and the principal roles are paid professionals, which I found slightly disappointing due to the talent displayed by UCL students. It’s undoubtedly a very professional production, but – discovering this before the performance – I was surprised, again, because of the brilliance UCL demonstrates in the arts.
My first experience of opera was a rewarding one thanks to UCOpera’s commendable efforts, and it’s hard to disagree that it’s ‘the best value opera in London’. Aside from my lack of understanding and some technicalities, I wouldn’t change much in this impressive production.
Image credits: Dante Kim