It would appear that my first 43 years on the planet have been so bereft of cultural pursuits that, as I am wont to do after a birthday, last weekend found me looking around for a new thing(s) to experience. Two years ago it was baking, last year it was polo (the pony kind). And this year it’s opera.
Opera has been one of the few ‘Arts’ that I have not readily subscribed too. I love classical music but the combination of singing I don’t understand and high prices has been a particular deterrent. That’s where a bit of community clever-ness came in from my lovely local The Phoenix Cinema.
Being an independent arthouse cinema, The Phoenix doesn’t need to subscribe to the wants and desires of a head office and experiments with its schedule to inspire the local community. In partnership with Glyndebourne 2012’s Opera Season, it’s running two live screenings of the performances there this weekend. Tomorrow is a double bill of two 1 Act operas from Ravel. The other – Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro – was screened last night and that’s where I was.
As cinema lights dimmed, the camera lit on the empty stage with its ‘Moorish Palace’ backdrop, the familiar strains of the overture began and soon the space was filled with hustle and bustle, music and colour…and a vintage red and cream Austin Healey.
Glyndebourne’s re-telling of this famous tale is set in the Seville of the swinging 60s. If you don’t know the story, it follows the trials and tribulations of Figaro and his lady love Susanna as they plan their wedding. There’s lots of hi-jinx and trickery, cross and double-cross in the tale (a bit like a Shakespearean comedy such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Twelfth Night) and with the aid of English subtitles, the familiarity of the music (I love Mozart’s music and it wasn’t until I sat through this that I realised how much of his musical bounty I had actually heard before) and the captivating performances, it made the whole experience a really enjoyable one – although as an opera neophyte, I could not tell you one aria from the other.
So in short, I loved it. And I paid £13.00 and was home 20 minutes after I’d left the auditorium.
I am sure that experiencing opera live, and especially in the gorgeous surrounds at Glyndebourne, is fantastic. But for someone who wasn’t sure it would all be worth it, getting a taste from the cheap seats was a perfect way to dip my proverbial toe into the water.
The other thing to say is this: I really admire Glyndebourne (and some of the other companies that will feature over the coming months) in their vision of bringing opera to the masses. While I’m a known champion of the written word (and quite frankly anything that promotes it), having access to art in all of its myriad expressions is such a wonderful opportunity and one of the things I love about living in London and more specifically, the ecclectic and fabulous Finchley.
The Marriage of Figaro actually follows on from the story in another Mozart opera, The Barber of Seville – the protagonists have grown older by the time we see them in 60s Seville and rather than lead, form backdrops (and a few barriers) to Susanna and Figaro’s impending nuptials – so you can guess what I’ll be keeping an eye out for in order to dip my other toe.
And as ever, I’m hopeful that my search will all turn out in the end – just like the marriage of Figaro and Susanna – with a joyful celebration and me drifting off into the warm and hazy night, humming a little Mozart to myself on the way home.