Miss Havisham’s Wedding Night

Dominick Argento
Barbarian Opera
Greenside @ Infirmary Street

Miss Havisham’s Wedding Night

In her wedding dress, Miss Havisham is awoken and visited by nanny, but will not be visited on her wedding night by the man she loves and is betrothed to. Her appeals to anyone go unanswered as the future, known to us all, is to be visited upon Estelle who appears in her line of sight.

This is a short and beautifully rendered rendition of a tragic woman. By anyone’s standard, Miss Havisham is one of the most tragic stories of Dickens’s canon. And with every move she makes, this illuminates it and shows it for the personal tragedy it is. Musically, it has all the hallmarks of a stunning vocal performance and a pianist who is deftly managing to go from one keyboard to another whilst never dropping a note. It makes for a very engaging 40 minutes or so in the company of a breakdown.

Now, I am no opera buff and do not have a wide range of experience of opera, though have always liked dipping in and out of the less well-known companies because they seem to have one eye on the populist but also one eye on the development of the art form. Here the artform has enough of a nod to its formula whilst also trying to develop a response to what is a cultural icon. It worked really well for me. This is especially so, as the attempt in the recent past to try and deal with Havisham legacy has been fruitful one—noted also that Carol Ann Duffy made a very decent fist of it too.

Here Rosie Rowell is massively impressive throughout.

Having opera on the Fringe, when it is clearly one of the elitist artforms, is an indication of that rehabilitation. It was something which I was very much wanting to see because it had a single female lead, dealing with a singular female character and was in a female-led company. The backstory for both the company and the performance was intriguing.

The theatricality of the piece is helped by the bareness of the stage. That the costume, a hint of a wedding dress, has been in some way singed—nod to the context of what eventually happens in the novel—means we have a clear anchor in which the performance will sit. It helps to frame it and makes it more watchable. Even for those of us not opera aficionados, we can spot the terms upon which we are being asked to bear witness.

And yet, where I found myself questioning the piece was its theatricality. Well directed it was, but there is a missing element which I think leaves us hanging. For me, though the performance was couched in terms of the available script, it needed more. It required to have its own anchor, a presence onstage or around, perhaps shadows in the wings which would have given us more to hang onto. I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw and the opera script, being much about repetition and simplicity, was fantastic, but in terms of the theatrical nature of performance, there was something which needed attention.

And so, I left with an elitist level performance, slumming it at the Fringe and feeling all the better for it. It challenged my idea of it being elitist at all and once more my choice of looking to the smaller and more risk-taking companies of the artform rewarded me with plenty to consider what was a hauntingly beautiful and melancholic rendering of a woman pushed towards her brink.

Reviewer: Donald C Stewart

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