BK Opera is an exciting initiative; their commitment to staging opera in intimate and accessible ways in addition to providing opportunities for emerging opera singers is admirable. They aim to strip their productions of ‘pomp and circumstance to find the raw emotion at the heart of these pieces’; to my dismay very little of this was evident in tonight’s production of Dirty, Sexy Opera. It’s about as dirty and sexy as a freshly pressed pocket square.
As a concept for a cabaret show and a platform for four emerging opera singers it is ripe with potential and one that I don’t believe has been explored with much depth or innovation by Mish Mcnamara (Direction) and Rachel Amos (Musical director and conductor). For a company that pertains to explore character in raw and intimate ways it’s frustrating to see a production that doesn’t. Sex and desire are a driving force throughout opera; it is used as currency, a weapon, a means of survival, a destroyer, an expression of love; characters frequently die for it. Whilst the arias are beautifully sung and an aural delight there is very little in the performances that connects the singers to the material. What is missing is an exploration of what the words and the notes mean for the characters they are portraying. As such, I believe we are only getting half a performance. However, kudos must go to repetiteur Pam Christie who accompanies the entire performance on her own and treats us to some Cole Porter before and after the show.
If this were a recital it would matter less, but the production is quite specific about contextualising the characters; before each aria the name of the character and a few adjectives to describe them are projected onto the stage, few of which I must confess are barely evident in the performances. When they’re not standing and delivering the movement is often clunky and awkward with exits and entrances a noticeable hurdle. What little blocking there is lacks focus and motivation. A caress on the arm is only as effective as the way it is caressed. Titillation is not necessary; but connection and chemistry absolutely is. There are so many missed opportunities to explore what sex, desire and sensuality mean to the characters. We are told that this production is playful and risqué (Sarah Jackson has done an excellent job at marketing) but it isn’t represented in the staging or characterisations.
There are surtitles provided but I believe there were some issues at the performance I attended because they were inconsistent and kept switching on and off.
I would like to reiterate that Sarah Amos, Alexandra Matthew, Julia Allsop and April Foster are all accomplished and beautiful singers and were a joy to listen to. It’s a shame that the work done in rehearsal hasn’t served them in a way that best represents the ambitions for this piece. With stronger direction, exploration and staging this performance could have been a thrilling evening. There is so much to love in this production; the all-female cast and creative team, the queering of the libretto, exploring female sexuality through the lens of classical music are all exciting and vital but, overall, I feel that this was a missed opportunity and one I hope is not representative of other productions.