Preview of Royal Opera House 2014/15 Season

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There was an air of expectancy as the Patrons and Friends of Covent Garden packed out the Paul Hamlyn Hall at the Royal Opera House on Thursday night to get an overview of the 2014/15 season.

Alex Beard Chief Executive of the ROH welcomed us all, and shared with us how the average attendance of the ROH is 96%, a staggering figure and proof that opera is popular and thriving. He pointed out that those that say “I don’t like opera” 9 times out of 10 have never been to one. This was certainly true for me, and I owe that first ROH production of La Traviata I saw for changing my mind and opening up this theatrical form to me. Since that time I’ve seen many operas and think it is a very special form of theatre.

Kasper Holten the Director of Opera then expounded on the opera season ahead. Let me say now, I was blown away by his passion, knowledge and desire to promote opera. I see a lot of presentations and speakers, and he’s from that special group that you feel inspired after listening to him.

Kasper Holten : Passionate, inspirational and knows his opera!

Kasper Holten : Passionate and inspirational

The coming season is a real mix, the classics are there, some new works and some interesting collaborations/innovations:

  • A production of Orfeo at the Roundhouse in Camden. I love the Roundhouse venue and know this will be a brilliant setting for this piece. Shock horror they’re going to sing it in English! It’s all part of engaging with the Roundhouse community and I think this will be a special collaboration opening up opera to a new audience and showing more established lovers of the form something new with this opera. This is regarded as the first opera written and Michael Boyd will be directing.
  • Anna Nicole will kick off the season. Interesting they’re reviving this piece. Another great innovation with this is that the first night will be for young people and students only. To encourage this demographic, the top price ticket will be the grand total of….£25!!!! What a bargain.
  • The piece I’m most excited about is an opera of Kafka’s The Trial by Philip Glass. On in the Linbury Studio this October. I love the book and I admire Philip Glass’s musicality so I’m hoping this will live up to the expectations I have.
  • The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Kurt Weill. Another I’m really excited to see. Kasper spoke about his desire to see opera’s from the 1918-30’s on the main stage. As he believed that period after WW1 has much that resonates with us today. I spoken often about how Brecht shaped my theatrical view. Getting to see his libretto and see an opera he helped to create will be something significant. Another break with tradition is this will also be an English translation of Brecht’s German libretto.

Perhaps the biggest announcement was that this season will be the last time John Copley’s 1974 version of La Boheme will be staged. I may need to make the effort to see this one last time as it’s such an iconic treatment of this fabulous opera.

We then heard from the equally enthusiastic Kevin O’Hare, outlining for us the Royal Ballet’s season.

Kevin O'Hare - The Royal Ballet's Director.

Kevin O’Hare – The Royal Ballet’s enthusiastic Director

Kevin’s care for his dancers came to the fore, the Royal Ballet have suffered from a series of injuries recently, all just down to bad luck. I was impressed that his first concern was to them, and then to the season. What a season too:

  • Kenneth Macmillan’s treatment of Manon returns this September to November. (I saw it in 2011 and regarded as the best thing I saw that year) If you’ve not seen it, make every effort to go! It’s celebrating 40 years since it first came to the ROH.
  • Another shock announcement  – there will be no Nutcracker this year. Hooray I say, you can have too much of a good thing. it’ll be back in future seasons though (another hooray).  This year over the xmas period will be Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on the main stage and a new collaboration with Zoonation in the Linbury Studio of The Mad Hatter’s T Party. I’m sure the ROH will be buzzing with families and inspire a new generation of dancers with these works.
  • May 2015 sees for me one of the most exciting new pieces for the Royal Ballet in this season; Woolf Works a look at the works and life of Virginia Woolf. Wayne McGregor will choreograph and music will be by Max Richter.

The above are just my highlights. The whole season for both Opera and Ballet is outstanding. Have a look at their website for more info and of course check back here for my reviews on the above mentioned pieces.

Bravo to the whole team at ROH for giving us a marvelous season to look forward to!

 

 

Transform

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To think, or write, or produce a play also means: to transform society, to transform the state, to subject ideologies to close scrutiny.

Brecht 1931

I’m currently immersed in the work and world of Bertold Brecht and Augusto Boal for my assignment.  This is involving me reading widely and delving into topics such as Marxism, Communism, Fascism and the Brazilian dictatorship of the 1960’s/1970’s (heavy stuff admittedly and gets some great looks on my commute to work!), on top of reading both Brecht’s and Boal’s writings and works. My assignment is looking at how the sociopolitical context affected their directorial innovations. This is proving to be absolutely fascinating. One of the key things I’m gaining an understanding of though, is the fact that theatre can (should?) not only reflect the sociopolitical climate of the time but also seek to change it. Boal and Brecht perhaps are especially pertinent exponents of using theatre to change society.

The West End theatre bucking the recession trend is such an encouragement, especially as one of the reasons that play attendance is up is that when people have been asked, they reply that they want to see something with depth, which TV and Hollywood aren’t providing. Audiences want to be engaged with, there’s a time and place to go to the theatre, sit back and enjoy some light entertainment. Yet there are times when the theatre can ” not just show real things, but how things really are” (Brecht). We’re living in tumultuous times, and the theatre can show those, yet also offer ideas and even possible solutions for the way forward for society. A lofty ideal perhaps, but one I feel is true, historically and currently. (just look at the history of dictatorships or countries with poor human rights, one of the first things they clamp down on or censor are theatre’s before most other things). I’m grateful that I live in a country where the theatre is relatively free, I’m also conscious that it’s liberty is under threat from fundamentalists of all persuasions who claim they have a right “not be offended”, which is silly as no-one has a right to not be offended. Often the truth hurts and theatre is perhaps the best art form to confront people with truths they don’t wish to see, for example in Hedda Gabler when Judge Brack says “ But, good God Almighty…people don’t do such things” , Ibsen is clearly showing his uptight Victorian audience with its head in sand that such things do happen, not just on stage but in their towns, communities and even families. What uncomfortable truths can today’s theatre confront us with?

I’m also so encouraged to read about Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre projects, not only that he did, but the centres and groups all over the world that are continuing his legacy and using theatre to help people in the here and now make positive decisions in their lives. While Theatre is about plays, the West End, Greek Theatre etc. Boal’s bringing of theatre to “non-actors” is  inspiring and refreshing to read about. Once the assignment’s complete I hope to look more into the current UK projects using his Theatre of the Oppressed systems.

So while doing the college assignments can sometimes seem a bit cerebral, it’s worth remembering the power of theatre, in our own lives, and in society too.

Assignment Options : Brecht and Boal

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Well, my college assignment is looming and I had to make a decision on who to focus on for the question set for me.

This module has opened my eyes to numerous directors work, which has been fascinating and stimulating. However when I looked at the assignment question it asked me to select just two to focus on and their innovations in relation to their socio-political situations.

I whittled the list down to five potentials;

  • Bertolt Brecht
  • Ariane Mnouchkine
  • Robert Lepage
  • Augusto Boal
  • John McGrath

Each one has particularly struck and resonated with me during this module. Mnouchkine’s use of Commedia Dell’arte, John McGrath’s thoughts and battles against Thatcherism, and Robert Lepage’s vision and developments are simply astounding (I was fortunate to attend a lecture Robert Lepage gave at college a few years ago, it was some of the best teaching I’ve received)

However, after some thought, I chose Bertolt Brecht and Augusto Boal.

Brecht’s plays and thought’s have really “clicked” with me and have helped me to define my own thoughts and understanding on theatre. I like his sense of humor and know that studying him further for this assignment will stretch my own thoughts on theatre and life beyond my comfort zone.

Boal is similar, reading his material and having seen a couple of videos of him on You Tube, you can’t help but get inspired by his enthusiasm and passion for life. I’m reading his autobiography ” Hamlet and the Bakers Son”, and I’m regularly laughing out loud at his funny observations. Yet I’m all but too aware of the pain both physical and emotional he’s suffered for his art.

So as my research continues for this assignment I’m aware that my theatrical knowledge will grow and change , but in order to do justice to their thoughts and views, I myself must change too.

Life of Galileo a few musings

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I’ve just finished reading Brecht’s 1939 play, Life of Galileo. The only other play of Brecht I’ve read previously is Mother Courage and that was a good couple of years back when studying another module for college.

I’m not sure why Brecht has a reputation for writing boring plays (maybe as I read more I may well change that view), I found Life of Galileo, well written, well paced and a thoroughly entertaining and challenging play.

Personally I find it a positive sign when a play gets you interested in the playwright themself and also their other works. I’m starting to feel inspired to read more about Brecht himself and his influences and to read through his other plays. This is something that I seldom get from reading plays, the last notable playwrights I can remember being so fascinated with their other works and the playwright was after reading Sarah Kane’s play Blasted and Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.  I’m sure some will feel that “the play should speak for itself”, that if I leave a play interested in their other work or in the person that maybe I’ve missed the point of the play. I’m not so sure, perhaps it’s because I see in the play / playwright, elements of myself and so wish to seek those out, to make more sense of the play, world and myself.

As I read Life of Galileo, I was struck by how contemporary it felt. The arguments between religion and science still abound, and while most (although I’m sure some fundamentalists somewhere disagree with Galileo) have accepted the science of Galileo which as Brecht brings out so well is to simply observe the solar system and see for ourselves. There still rages a battle between religion and science. With the 150th anniversaries last year surrounding Darwin’s publication of his Origin of Species, I’m surprised a revival of this play wasn’t put on, it highlights the issues Darwin faced and his theory still faces from fundamentalist religions.

Brechts use of a synopsis written in verse to be displayed to the audience before and during the scene, is a brilliant idea. Not only do these provide humor but also help with the thrust of the scene, Brecht didn’t want his plays to complicate the audience, the opposite was his aim. Many playwrights don’t have this attitude towards their audience, especially in our self centred society, it is often felt that the artist should create and the audience have to “get it”.  Brecht wants his audience to “get it”, but is willing to help them on their discovery.

I’ve got a bit more reading to do, then my module takes me onto look at Joan Littlewood, however I have a feeling that Brecht will be one of the directors I examine for my assignment later this year, so they’ll be more musings on him soon.

Brecht is fun!

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My college unit has now moved onto looking at Brecht and his take on theatre.

While I’m no expert on Brecht having only looked at him briefly in a couple of previous units, his influence on 20th century theatre is unquestionable. I’ve found him a fascinating character, and have been looking forward to discovering more about him and his work in this years module.

He seems to have gained an unfair reputation for writing heavy and boring plays, which is ironic as two of his major influences were Charlie Chaplin and the German clown  Valentin. Of course his work is political, he was profoundly influenced by his time witnessing the horrors when he served in World War One and he worked and lived in Germany during the rise of Nazism. However as mentioned in Saturdays post, just because a play contains politics or is political, doesn’t mean it can’t be good drama, or contain humour. The TV show, “Have I got News for You” proves that politics/politicians are funny.

Brecht wanted his plays to contain “Spass” (fun) . Serious plays can be fun. Reading his plays with this in mind, is actually quite a useful tool, rather than fearing I’m in for a lengthy communist manifesto, I’m actually reading a play and to play is fun. Theatre should be a fun place – not that it can’t deal with serious issues, but Brecht knew that serious theatre without “Spass” wouldn’t appeal to many people.

So as I continue my Brecht studies, I aim to remember “this is fun”!