Ukulele Opera

Roll up! Roll up!
I did….

By Jane Silver-Corren

I want to join the circus and be a flea!

That was the overwhelming desire I had after various unusual auditions for the Bridport Ukulele Opera, Flea, due to be performed in the Electric Palace this May.

The initial meeting for those interested in being part of this amazing venture was unexpected. The ballroom at The Bull was packed with over a hundred fellow Bridportians eager to be involved. I started to itch! Did I have fleas or was I just a bit nervous? But Sally Vaughan, the projects producer, put us at ease, reassuring us that there would be a role for everyone.

Various local celebrities explained aspects of the show: the dance, drama, music, circus skills, all of which involved castings, but I wasn’t fooled. Many of these castings were auditions with a capital A.

So I decided to grab the flea by the bag, or is it the ear, and attempt to get a part in the all-singing ukulele playing chorus. I arrived eagerly on the first minute of the first day of three possible days of auditions for the chorus, along with some 60 other hopefuls. Hooray! Healthy competition. I found my 10-minute audition with the musical director and producer a bit scary.

They didn’t look particularly thrilled with my fantastic rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In, or my enthusiasm for the 10, maybe 12, ukulele chords I convinced them I had mastered in the past 10 years. But they did congratulate me on my audition; then convinced me to try for one of the other roles.

On to the dance castings. Three days later I had a wonderful couple of hours pretending to be the bodily part of a flea…. just my cup of flea…I mean tea. It was really good fun. Anna Golding, dance facilitator, showed us inspiring pictures of fleas, with cute dangly legs and googly eyes, and then the assembled group of all ages and sizes had to transform themselves into a giant flea, followed by a mechanical flea. It was fleatastic. For once, it was socially acceptable to hop around and make buzzing noises.

Then, about a week later the final audition, musical theatre, basically a main acting part with some singing and hopefully a few circus skills too (ha, ha, ha). After a few bonding games the group of about 30 of us were divided into groups of four. We had auditions in front of the producer, musical director, musical theatre director and drama director…not at all intimidating!

We had to speak and sing phrases from the opera in various different moods. I had a great deal of difficulty taking this seriously and spent most of the time giggling, especially when asked to be compassionate or angry…or kind! In the end, the director just let me do my own thing, so I enjoyed hopping around the room shouting ‘I want to be a flea’ which is hopefully what I’ll end up being…or at least a dancing leg of a flea, if I’m very lucky. I’ll just have to wait and flea what happens!

Sally Vaughan, producer of Flea, the Bridport Ukulele Opera is still looking for help, particularly free rehearsal and storage spaces, set-builders, materials such as timber, paints and costumes, scaffolding and people with childminding qualifications. Please contact info@ukuleleopera.org.uk if you can help.

By |February 5th, 2017|Opera|0 Comments

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