Saturday, 3 September 2016

#edfringe2016: Ghost Quartet: Summer Hall ★★★★★

Dave Malloy - Photography by Ryan Jansen
A 9pm showing of Ghost Quartet, by Ghost Quartet, was how I spent my last night at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Set at the Roundabout, a large tent at the back of Summer Hall, encased musical curiosities and explorations of ghost stories read to fringe audiences in a spectacular blend of music styles. Jazz, slow rock, gospel, ballad or emo, call it what you want, but one thing's for sure and that's that the music is a collection of crafty creativity you've never heard of before. 

The music and lyrics were composed and written by New York-based Dave Malloy, and he has accolades to boast. Success from his off-Broadway hit Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 grabbed punters attention, and Ghost Quartet is a testament that his individual score writing prevails. 

There in a carpet floored, round swirl of eager music lovers, Molloy, Gelsey Bell, Brittain Ashford and Brent Arnold took to the small circle stage facing each other with a wide range of peculiar instruments at hand. This included an erhu, dulcimer, ukulele, Celtic harp, metallophone and their exhilarating, harmonising voices.

As the marketing suggests there are moments where audiences are left in the dark, encouraged to listen to the music for itself and pay attention to the pivotal details of the ghostly tales. However, the performance as a whole isn't linear or perhaps it is and I may have missed the punch; there are patchy mentions of a broken camera, a talking bear, a Thelonious monk, an astronomer, a man that dies in a subway and lost sisters reunited, but all seem unrelated, and somehow related. 

Arnold is an intelligent cellist. Malloy is the man with a capital M - a pioneering rhythm-maker, while Armold and Bell produce the most amazing vocal sounds that can bring you to tears in their solo ballads. 

Engaging talent, enthusiasm, and passion are harmoniously harnessed by Ghost Quartet. I'd highly recommend this to anyone who loves soul and the idea of clapping and stomping until their hands and feet hurt, to the sound of loud percussions instruments. 

#edfringe2016: The Snow Child - Bloody Chamber Opera ★★★★

Helena Moore sings as the Snow Child - Photography by Johannes Hjorth
Owain Park, a young composer literally at the end of his final year studying Music at Cambridge University, presented his chamber opera The Snow Child at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His eerie, bleak musical landscape instils the haunting story of a count and countess and their encounter with a beautiful snow child in the dead of winter. 

Adapted from Angela Carter’s fairy tale from her short stories book The Bloody Chamber, Park captures the disturbing, dark shadows that befall the innocent snow child. Gareth Mattey’s staging was minimal. Paper was sporadically laid on the stage with moody lights above, alluding to icicles and setting our frosty scene.

With a unique chamber orchestra and six talented voices, which include three narrators, the music is unsettling, atmospheric and distinctive. Through the poetic chamber score, the opera subtly combines with splendid solo passages from its singers, which hint on the macabre and ghastly nature of the short tale.

The musicians of the performance (currently waiting for official names from the company) I saw at Edinburgh’s Paradise in Augustines were superb. String, percussion, and woodwind instruments had their own place within the score that evolved into a variety of textures and intricate details, highlighting the sinister winter’s journey. 

Peter Lidbetter and Amber Evans gave fine performances as the count and countess. They evoked their characters well – a passive and lustful count besotted by the naked child in the snow and a green-eyed countess. The narrators, Hannah King, Ed Roberts and Sam Mitchell, also provided interesting vocal colouring as a group ensemble or solo act. Yet, Helena Moore provided the purity and virtuousness of our Snow Child. Dressed in white, her voice conjured the angelic and naïve victim, the counter balance of the count and countess who eventually murder and ravage her. 

Amber Evans sings as the Countess - Photography by Johannes Hjorth
Intriguing as this new work was, however, I felt that surtitles or a libretto at hand would have been beneficial. At times I felt out of the loop and unsure of where we were in the story.

Before we were introduced to the opera, Moore sang Marco Galvani’s work The Deserted House, a poem written by Alfred Lord Tennyson, to open up the evening. Acting as a warm-up and neat pathway into The Snow Child, it wasn’t as inspiring or stimulating as the chamber opera itself. Yet the intention was there to prepare the audience for a gruesome expedition of grime story-telling.  

Edinburgh Fringe is over, but to find more information about Owain Park, please click here. 

Thursday, 1 September 2016

#edfringe2016: Brundibár - Abridged Opera

Children of the Abridged Opera Company perform at Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Brundibár is a children’s opera that was written in a concentration camp in Theresienstadt. In 1942, it was performed there 55 times by Jewish musicians and children. It is a rarity to see this opera nowadays, yet given its duration (hardly 30 minutes) and sharp message of good over evil, there are things to learn and cherish about this historical piece.

I had the pleasure of seeing Brundibár performed live by children of the Abridged Opera Company. The company, originally from Canada, has been touring, showcasing the tale of a brother and sister Pepíček and Aninku. The story watches them agonise over the health of their mother. They decide to sing for money so they can buy milk for her, yet a greedy organ grinder Brundibár chases them away.

At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in Paradise in Augustines Church, Tracey B. Atin’s stage was brightly lit with enthusiastic children ready to sing and show the goodness of Hans Krasa's innocent story-telling. Yet there was a subtle and sinister tone to the music, which had you thinking innocence doesn’t prevail after all.

Sung in English, the Children were dressed as if they were animated characters from a folk tale. The setting was a quaint little village filled with helpful animals including a cat, dog, and courageous sparrow. These three animals assist the siblings in scaring away Brundibár .

The scenes flowed excellently together, and the children were a joy to watch. Robert Godden looked villainous as one would expect from a pantomime as the evil organ grinder. Pianist Joanna Shultz and Trevor Pittman, on the clarinet, revealed the intricate layers and multiple meanings in Krasa’s composition. And Erin Armstrong showed respect for the music and gave the children the extra push to perform as best as they could, to which they charmed and showed much enjoyment in.

Productions like these, invented by fringe-like companies such as Abridged Opera, are a great place to restore knowledge for audiences of lost histories with personal voices and spectacular music. It is also a great place for little ones to start out on the stage and become fully engrossed with opera.

To find out more about Abridged Opera Company, please click here for their website.