stapsdoes101things: detail of a hymnbook page showing hymn no. 101, tune 'St Bernard' (101music)
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Saucy Lamp (b/w)

... and all of the chanteuses are simple honest floozies...

Upon re-reading my statement of intent for this goal, I note with some amusement that I was planning to take advantage of all the theatres that I can reach so easily now that I'm living in Surrey. Well, so far in this challenge I have been to three theatrical performances, two of them in a church - and one on the Isle of Wight.

Yes, on Monday I found myself back in Shanklin Theatre, where I began my short-lived and undistinguished career in amateur operatics as a dresser backstage in The Merry Widow. (I subsequently appeared in the chorus of several of the Savoy Operas, and eventually had a couple of lines to myself in The Gipsy Baron.)

As it happens, I was going to see The Merry Widow, but this time presented by Opera della Luna. My father and brother had been to see their production of The Sorcerer at the Theatre Royal, Winchester, and raved about it. Besides, I have always had a soft spot for The Merry Widow - 1900s Paris! Huge hats! Women doing what the hell they like! - and so I decided that obviously it was a good idea to commute from Ventnor to Guildford on Tuesday morning for the sake of going to the theatre on Monday night. (Actually it wasn't as bad as I expected - just over two hours. But never mind that.)

And this was indeed a very good production. Opera della Luna have reduced the cast to eight and the orchestra to seven, one of whom doubles as a non-speaking character. The orchestra is tucked into a corner of the stage, where it effectively suggested a palm court trio at the series of parties that are the setting of The Merry Widow. Elsewhere, puppets and mannequins made up numbers; it was all very clever.

The translation and production combined found and emphasised a very cynical edge to the libretto, which cut through the musical schmaltz beautifully, making the indifferent slush that I first saw into something savage and witty. The Merry Widow is about sex and money, and nobody was trying to explain that away. It is also about class and gender - not for one moment were we allowed to forget that Hanna started out as a 'peasant girl'. It is about the double standard. Chez Maxim, ever present in the dialogue, and, later in the flesh, reminds us of the value assigned to women in this society. The Maxim's scene was hilarious (and a very clever use of the limited cast) but also rubbed in the uncomfortable truth.

Oh yes, and the singing was great, too. I loved it.

August 2013

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