Early Opera Company
Iford Festival 2008 - 2011
. Rodelinda (2011)
. conductor . Christian Curnyn design . Mark Friend associate director . Jennifer Tang
Martin Constantine's staging is grey and stark, allowing an undercurrent of violence, verging occasionally on the sadistic, to colour the drama. Crucially, he adds narrative detail to every repeat of the da capo aria and, with a strong cast delivering the long succession of showy arias with considerable passion and authority, the effect was potent. In particular, Constantine gambled with the role of Flavio, young son of Bertarido and Rodelinda (played with remarkable poise by Yves Morris), fleshing it out to make the boy both witness and subject to appalling events. It points to enduring psychological damage, and the happily-ever-after ending is indeed shockingly subverted.
THE GUARDIAN ****
Rodelinda triumphs at Iford Opera. With a huge emotional canvas to explore with Rodelinda, how did Iford Opera fare? Brilliantly is the answer. At Iford's Friday night first performance the full house of some 90 people were treated to what must be one of the most riveting and persuasive productions of this opera in the UK in the last decade - and all the more remarkable given the comparative youthfulness of the singers and constraints of this miniature faux-Italiante cloister performance space. And for once it was the whole artistic team working together to bring Handels great music to life: design, direction, music and voice.
Director Martin Constantine and designer Mark Friend have worked wonders with Christian Curnyn's Early Opera Company to make the most of Iford's in the square performance space and the usefully compressed and claustrophobic nature of this operas plot, based as it is inside the royal palace throughout, was ideal for their purposes. The focus of all the action is an all-purpose central table in, on, and around which everything revolves. Props are confined to clever use of paper : as screens, drapes, photocopied prints of family life before the troubles, and the odd knife here and there. As the EOCs stylish period band of 13 musicians began the Overture the audience were bemused by large paper screens apparently blocking their view of the stage area but as the music came to an end hooded and cloaked men silently entered from different directions and dramatically tore into the screens and destroyed them: the throne of Bertarido had been usurped, Grimoaldo was now in power with Rodelinda and her son Flavio at his mercy, and let the action commence.
Handel opera is so often these days second-guessed by ego-driven directors and stage producers; Iford Arts can be congratulated on producing a modern version that stayed true to the essence of Englands greatest composer.
. The Coronation of the Poppea (2009)
. conductor . Christian Curnyn design . Mark Friend
I was rather more lit up by The Coronation of Poppea, which came into sharp focus in Iford Arts tiny Italianate cloister. The characterisation was vivid and the direction fluent. A fine young cast fielded by the Early Opera Company had no weak links, and outstanding performances came from Doreen Curran as the spurned Ottavia, and Owen Willetts and Joanne Boag as Ottone and Drusilla. Altogether this was a bracing and involving experience, the success of which points a way forward for this uniquely tiny but delightful summer operatic venue.
THE TELEGRAPH ****
I've rarely felt so uncomfortably close to creatures of whimisical obsession and exhilarating lack of scruple. This Coronation of Poppea was one of Iford's best shows, which is saying something. Katherine Manley and Nick Sharratt were stunning in the main roles. This was an utterly serious Poppea....director Martin Constantine weighed every word and made his actors do the same. Each conversation, row and sex-scene had a vital point and was delivered with total immediacy....A scorcher, all round.
Once again they have called upon the services of Martin Constantine, a director adept at exploiting the dramatic possibilities and intimacy of the venue. In best Iford tradition the result is direct, intoxicating and, ultimately, moving.
As night drew in, Constantine was allowed greater subtlety with lighting, creating magical effects in the garden and in the final scene, with Poppea and Nerone declaring their love lit by the rest of the cast carrying torches. The direction of the singers was both minutely observed and carried out with total commitment by the young cast.
. Giasone (2008)
conductor . Christian Curnyn design . Signe Beckmann
Cavalli is back in fashion again and on the basis of one stirringly staged, pocket-sized production deserves his new fame. Martin Constantine's production of Cavalli's Giasone for the Early Opera Company offered a sort of Big Brother intimacy, every bead of sweat and smudge of mascara magnified.
Martin Constantine's quickfire production never resorts to caricature: these are very real people in a very real pickle. The cast are uniformly excellent. It may be more than 350 years old, but Giasone still feels terrifically alive.
THE TIMES ****
Martin Constantine's sharply directed production quickly knocks one out of any state of complacency. Making the most of the small space at his disposal, Constantine and his designer, Signe Beckmann, set the first act not in Colchis the legendary home of the Golden Fleece, but Colchis the garishly branded sex resort. Constantine cleverly re-imagines Medea's Incantation as some sort of trip, the chorus of spirits embodied by men with large rabbit heads reminiscent of Donnie Darko. The whole ensemble came together extremely well and the acting, scrutinised from every angle by an audience surrounding the stage at close proximity, was as committed and convincing as it had to be.