Thursday 15 February 2018

A Triptych of Comic Operas - The Kings Head Theatre

A Triptych of Comic Operas - The Kings Head Theatre

Who said opera had to be stuffy, dense and obtuse?

For this night at The Kings Head, Irrational Theatre presented not one but three miniature one act operas full of frivolity, each as absurd as the last. Opera is often comic, but rarely does it laugh at itself.

But that’s what Peter Reynolds did with his 1993 opera The Sands of Time. At just three and a half minutes long, the Guinness Book of Records claimed it was the shortest opera on earth – the same time it takes to boil an egg. It pokes fun at the form of opera combining all its elements into a single through-sung scene, but it’s full of its own silliness too: a couple having an argument over breakfast in a nod to its egg-themed length. It’s frothy and fun, though unlikely to ever be more than a curio.

It’s the second of the three, the first being John Whittaker’s The Proposal. An adaptation of a short play by Anton Chekhov, it’s another silly look at a relationship – this time a proposal that repeatedly goes awry. It is the most polished production of the three, but also the most musically disinteresting. Instead its carried by its farcical plot, the cast making the most of the limited scope for characterisation in this miniature.

It’s the same three singers used for all three operas, but they clearly have the most fun with the final performance: Offenbach’s Le 66. A truly bizarre tale of brother and sister travelling musicians who believe they’ve won the lottery, it finally gives the singers a chance to stretch their vocal and dramatic muscles. Compared with the other two, Offenbach’s piece is wonderfully melodic and although the staging was under-rehearsed, its absurdity had the audience and cast giggling alike. It was also the first time Le 66 was performed in English in the UK, with a new libretto from Matthew Toogood and Ellen Leather that juxtaposed modern dialogue with lederhosen and allowed for some comedy German accents from the cast.

It may not have been the most refined or sophisticated evening of opera, but its whimsy was infectious. Sometimes fun comes in small packages.