Thursday’s all-Walton programme at the Royal Opera’s Linbury Studio Theatre paired two very silly music-theatre pieces, Façade and The Bear, in a concert by the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme. Lots of people won’t need an introduction to Façade, in which Walton’s friend Edith Sitwell’s nonsense poetry is narrated over beautifully versatile music. The wonderfully posh Hilary Brennan and the more varied Thomas Guthrie shared the narration, which is just as well, as the words flowed by so quickly as to defy understanding, and the monotony of one voice alone might have sent us into a trance. The humour is sadly dated now, and the whole affair sounded somewhere between Gilbert & Sullivan and Flanders & Swann – but less funny.
Façade was paired with The Bear, a one-act comedic opera based on a tale by Chekov. Madame Popova is a young widow in mourning, is determined to spite her late, cheating husband by remaining faithful to him for the rest of her life. She and her long-suffering servant, Luka (Vuyani Mlinde), are visited by handsome and similarly self-absorbed man, Smirnov (Kostas Smoriginas), who has come to collect money owed to him. Popova refuses and he challenges her to a duel. However, as he shows her how to load, aim and fire her husband’s pistols, he admits that her spirited refusal has left him in love with her. She orders him out of her house for the offence, but she too has taken a fancy to him, and calls him back, and the story of these two unlikeable characters ends happily. The silly tale was wonderfully complimented by a most unusual situation – due to illness Monika-Evelin Liiv was unable to perform Popova, and was replaced at short notice by an admirable Julianne Young. She sang from the wings from the score, while Thomas Guthrie (director) acted out the part in dress and wig, pouting all the while. Sadly, a cross-dressing Popova seemed the most humourous – and appropriate – element of the whole evening.
Words by Clara Nissen. Photo by Richard H Smith