The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (you should really go out and buy the paper!) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a live relay at the Red Carpet Cinema, Barton-under-Needwood on 1 April 2015.
Between them, Birmingham Opera Company, WNO and English Touring Opera typically stage about a dozen live productions in the West Midlands each year. If you’re at all enthusiastic about opera, that’s woefully insufficient – which is why live cinema relays are worth taking seriously. The sound is more realistic than any home stereo, production values are high and the best cinemas in the region are as comfortably-appointed as any conventional theatre.
That was certainly the case at the Red Carpet Cinema at Barton Marina, where we saw the Royal Opera House’s current production of Brecht and Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. As with most filmed opera, the cameras tended to focus on individual singers rather than the whole stage picture, and the orchestral sound seemed ever so slightly recessed (much as you’d hear on a studio recording).
But other than that, John Fulljames’ punchy new production, with Es Devlin’s container-based sets and deadpan, brilliantly effective video projections by Finn Ross, was allowed to make its considerable impact. A luxury cast exuberantly hammed up Brecht’s cartoonish characters. Anne Sofie von Otter channelled a mix of Cruella de Vil and Mary Portas as Begbick, while Kurt Streit gave lowlife messiah Jimmy McIntyre the full heldentenor treatment.
If the nature of the piece – and perhaps Mark Wigglesworth’s raw, urgent conducting, too – perhaps encouraged some cast members to belt it out slightly too aggressively (Willard White, as Trinity Moses, was unusually gruff), that wasn’t necessarily to the drama’s disadvantage. But it didn’t stop a radiant-voiced Christine Rice – as the prostitute Jenny – simply walking away with very scene in which she appeared. It’s not every day you witness a cinema audience humming the Alabama Song.