Madame Chandelier’s Rough Guide to the Opera
The Kings Arms, Salford
The Kings Arms in Salford helps to chase away the post-Christmas blues by inviting back acts who performed in last year’s Greater Manchester Fringe Festival. It is a practice that has seen some shows post ‘sold out’ notices and Madame Chandelier’s Rough Guide to the Opera move from The Studio to the main performance space.
The best parodies (like Spinal Tap) are those where the writers have both knowledge of, and affection for, the subject they are spoofing. Canadian soprano Delea Shand has sung in the great opera houses (only in the gift shops but, as she explains, it still goes on the CV) so clearly knows the subject but is aware that potential audiences may not share her enthusiasm. So, reversing her name to become Madame Chandelier, she delivers a quick five-act guide to the basics of opera. Shand is a gentle and informative host, carefully steering patrons with only a limited knowledge of the genre around the complexities of opera in a humorous manner.
Affection does not prevent Shand from mocking the excesses of opera or mercilessly exploring the clichés associated with the genre. She enters in full Valkyrie costume and her welcoming greeting, full of swooping crescendos and piercing high notes, takes a good five minutes just to say “Hello”. Shand rattles through the plotlines of operas—generally involving sixteen-year-old girls played by forty-year-old women—and the more memorable developments. When tossing chocolates to the audience, she cautions against the possibility of tuberculosis—the most common cause of death in opera.
Shand cheerfully mocks the low-key nature of her own show in comparison with the lavish operas. The closest Shand gets to extravagant set design is tatty tinsel curtains hastily stuck to the wall by tape. Autobiography creeps into the show with Shand recounting her rejections from major opera houses and her unfortunate attack of food poisoning while watching a show.
Opera is regarded by many as elitist and some of the audience admit to knowing nothing about the subject. The most remarkable aspect of Madame Chandelier’s Rough Guide to the Opera is, therefore, the extent to which Shand is able to secure enthusiastic audience involvement. Patrons are encouraged to act as backing dancers, dressers and musicians, take part in a drinking game, join in a “Nessun Dorma” singalong and identify whether or not a song is from an opera. Throughout the highly silly proceedings, Shand, of course, meticulously explains the technically correct operatic phrase for the actions or history of the music.
Madame Chandelier’s Rough Guide to the Opera is not an easy show to categorise containing elements of stand-up as well as theatre. The keen audience participation, however, pushes the show away from these categories and moves it towards the mood of a boisterous party which, bearing in mind the subject matter, is a startling achievement. Sceptical audiences might not be converted to become opera fans by Madame Chandelier’s Rough Guide to the Opera but they will have a very good time.
Reviewer: David Cunningham