Archive for May, 2008

We Will Rock You

May 26, 2008

I was delighted to be invited on a girly trip to London last Thursday to see the musical We Will Rock You. As Gen’s brother, Jon Boydon, was playing the lead role of Galileo on that particular evening we knew it was going to be extra special. We Will Rock You is playing at the Dominion Theatre in the West End which is an old art deco theatre and, to me, seemed very big (it seats over 2000).

Jon was kind enough to give us a tour backstage before the performance and this was really interesting as we had a go of the camera where the actors were filmed whenever they were projected on to the big screen on stage. We were also shown where the band played in the wings and all the costumes that the actors got changed into as well as some of the settings and scenery (there is a big setting of Tottenham Court Road tube station which appears during the middle of the show). Backstage seemed to me to be a warren of corridors, little stairways and trap doors so goodness knows how the actors remember their way around to rush to the right entrance to the stage.

I don’t often go to musicals and I’d never heard of We Will Rock You even though it’s been going since 2002. It wasn’t what I was expecting, which was a story about Queen, I won’t spoil the story but the surprise element made it all the better. The script was written by Ben Elton and the Queen lyrics were cleverly worked into it, and of course Queen songs lend themselves to that kind of spectacular showing and big stage musical production (both Brian May and Roger Taylor are musical supervisors for the show apparently). For once I bought a programme which was worth the 4 quid as it gave an impressive amount of information and wasn’t just full of adverts. The music is live (of course!) and the band members have played with some high profile rock musicians including Eric Clapton, Meatloaf, Whitesnake and Black Sabbath.

Jon was excellent switching back and forth with ease, as required by the role, from rather gauche and awkward stutterer to confident big stage rock star. He had real charisma and stage presence in what was a very energetic and physically demanding role. The audience were very participative and really getting into it, and of course everyone knew the lyrics and at the end were singing along. There was a great deal of noise and applause at the end of the show along with a well deserved standing ovation.

Afterwards we went to a bar next to the theatre and I popped out to watch with interest as Jon was mobbed by admirers as he emerged from the stage door.

Jon joined us briefly for a drink then headed off home to have dinner and wind down before bed. He was saying that this sort of acting lifestyle is about 5 hours behind the rest of us as of course they’re late to bed and late to rise and do their main work during the evening.

We walked back to our hotel at the end of the evening tired out but happy after a very full day.

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Madame Butterfly

May 3, 2008

I’ve been feeling quite fed up the last couple of months and looking through the Metro yesterday morning I discovered that Madam Butterfly was on at the Alexandra Theatre that very night. Great, something different from my usual routine, so on the spur of the moment I rang a friend who said she’d come with me, booked tickets for us and we were set for the evening.

It was the Ellen Kent production of Madam Butterfly with the Ukrainian National Opera that we went to see, and we got the £21 mid range tickets and were sat right up in the gods. But this was a good thing as it gave us a great overview of what was going on on stage as well as the fantastic scenery and settings. I’ve seen Madam Butterfly years ago with the opera sung in English, however, this was sung in the original Italian and I was surprised and pleased to see that it was subtitled. I know roughly the story, but it’s good to be able to understand the details of the plot and what the singers are actually on about. Subtitles were displayed right at the top of the stage on a board which looked like the sort of board you see at New St Station to give you the train times. I’ve only been twice to the opera (both times Madam Butterfly), and I don’t know if subtitling a performance like this is the done thing, but I think it’s a splendid idea which should encourage more people like me to come to the opera as they will understand what’s going on, though I can imagine some venues being too snotty to do it.

The previous version of Madam Butterfly that I’ve seen was an excellent production and sung in English (and a good translation as far as I could judge), however, the music and singing in last night’s performance moved me far more. My friend Maria thinks, and I tend to agree, that this is because the opera is meant to be sung in Italian, and when sung in English you’re hearing it in a language that it was not originally designed for, no matter how good the translation is. As the music and language are intertwined perhaps this is why I found the Italian version more engaging.

The role of Madam Butterfly was superbly performed by a young Korean soprano, Elena Dee, in her first professional role. I got the impression reading the review in the Metro that Ellen Kent, whose production it was, doesn’t like overweight opera singers and won’t employ them no matter how good their voices are. However, my friend Maria reckons that opera is one of the performing arts where looks, age and body shape don’t matter; only the voice matters. I tend to disagree when opera is a viewing spectacle and Elena Dee, being young and good looking, really looked the part of Madam Butterfly, played a wonderful tragic heroine and had the most gorgeous voice. The tenor, Andriy Perfilov, playing Lieutenant Pinkerton was excellent and being young, handsome and fit really suited for the role.

I’ve heard several versions of the famous aria at the beginning of the second act, and Elena Dee’s that we heard last night was absolutely gorgeous. However, I’m going to be really picky now and say that Maria and I agreed that her voice tended to lose its power in the lower registers – the best versions of Madam Butterfly that I’ve heard have a warmth and power and vibrancy in the lower notes which to me really packs an emotional punch, but she’s a young singer and certainly has a beautiful voice and I’m sure this will come in time.

There was tremendous applause for her at the end of the show and tremendous applause, as well as some boos and hisses, for Andriy Perfilov in his role as the cad Pinkerton.

The audience were the usual middle aged couples but also a surprising, to me, number of young people dressed up for the evening (well young women to be exact as I don’t think Madam Butterfly would normally attract groups of young men on a night out).

I’ve never been to the Alexandra Theatre before and the seats we were sat in were quite good as they were at the corner of the grand circle – not right at the top, but with a wall behind us so that we could lean forward without annoying anyone behind.

It was a wonderful evening and I’ll certainly go and see another Ellen Kent production if I get the chance.