Guillaume Tell

Guilliame TellRoyal Opera House Live
Bridport Arts Centre 9 July 2015
BR Rating **

By Amy Van Zyl

Watching this production of Rossini’s last opera was to be frequently reminded of human ingenuity. The music, masterfully conducted by Antonio Pappano, seamlessly rose and fell to transfigure every scene. The protagonists’ musical performances impressed with their technical and emotional capacity. John Osborn was exceptional in the role of Arnold, which requires tenors to far outstretch their usual vocal range but to do so with agile ease. Also in one of the lesser roles, Sofia Fomina played a believable and compelling Jemmy, Guillaume’s son, whose voice rang clearly and passionately throughout.

This, an impressive feat in itself, is sadly one that stands alone in the face of the production’s short-comings, which make it difficult to praise the production further. The story of Guillaume Tell is enticingly tragic. It follows the Swiss hero William Tell, whose undying patriotism and love for his countrymen, makes him yearn to be liberated from the cruel and sadistic Austrian occupation. However, it seems that this production just needed to fall into the lap of a director with a clearer and fresher understanding of the opera’s ferocity.

It was simply impossible to become emotionally involved or deeply moved. It was as if the drama was so overwhelming that the director had timidly reverted to predictable attempts to make the opera seem new, exciting, controversial and different. This had a devaluing and numbing effect. In fact it was laborious.

Now, for those skimming to the exciting bit, we come to the infamous ‘rape scene’. It shows why reviews of Damiano Michieletto’s production are themselves problematic. Surely this production would never have attained the same notoriety had this debate not erupted so spectacularly. This seems a shame as it means the sublime musical performances go relatively ignored yet allows sales-savvy journalists to write excoriating reviews.

Nevertheless, it seems bizarre that audiences have felt so inclined to be offended by the rape scene and violence of the piece. They aren’t audibly outraged every time anonymous corpses and traumatised women are blazed across news channels.

To feel moved, shocked, uncomfortable is ultimately the premise of the production which had all the trimmings of a Shakespearean tragedy. In a harrowing story about the ravages of war, would the audiences have preferred that the ‘distasteful’ elements of the production had been neatly edited? Mind you, it is easy to be apathetic when you aren’t emotionally embroiled in the production itself because, try as you might, there is only so much looking-dramatically-poised that one can stomach.

By |July 10th, 2015|Amy Van Zyl, Opera|0 Comments

Matisse: The Cut-Outs

matisseBridport Arts Centre 2 June 2015
BR Rating ***

By Amy Van Zyl

Shot at Tate Modern and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the film beautifully captures Matisse’s ideas, artistic effects and motivation. The story behind the simple colour-exploding forms showed that the cut-out method was born out of Matisse’s necessity to combine drawing and colour. The cut-out was his ‘all-encompassing’ medium, one which he discovered in the last 13 years of his life when he was rendered more or less bed-bound after colon surgery in 1941.

In his cut-outs, Matisse created another universe; one that he might escape to and spend the night in. This is the film’s greatest victory: the inclusion of intimate footage of the artist himself at work while he tirelessly strove to capture the movement of the form and its interaction with colour, in suspension. The other highlight is the use of other art forms, such as choreography by Will Tuckett and a piece of modern jazz music inspired by Matisse’s cut-outs. These provide the living and breathing testament to how, for many, Matisse’s works burst from the confines of their frames.

Sadly, the film stumbles in the way it reveals the works of art themselves. The beauty of the colour and the overwhelming presence Matisse’s works demand (something the critics seemed very keen to assure us we should be getting excited about) simply isn’t translated in the wobbly and slightly dizzying panoramic virtual tour of the exhibition. This was incredibly annoying, and disorientating. That was a shame because it left a distinctly anti-climactic feeling – one that resurfaced every time the dreaded swooping camera-shot resumed. Nevertheless, the film did fulfil its purpose in explaining the intricate details that the complete novice wouldn’t see under the harsh, white lights of a gallery. It is just unfortunate that its portrayal of Matisse’s cut-outs doesn’t deliver the impact that the film itself insists they deserve.

By |June 3rd, 2015|Amy Van Zyl, Film|0 Comments