Savitri / The Waiter's Revenge / Hin und Zurück (There and Back)

Gustav Holst / Stephen Oliver / Music by Paul Hindemith, Text by Marcellus Schiffer (translated by Marian Farquhar)
Minotaur Music Theatre
Rosemary Branch Theatre

The Rosie has been staging pub opera since 2002 (often with Charles Court Opera) but this unusual triple bill of Savitri. The Waiter's Revenge and Hin und Zurück is presented by Minotaur Music Theatre under the direction of Stuart Barker. Its three short, rarely seen operas, plus a bonus of three songs by Kurt Weill, make an entertaining evening and, since the middle one is performed actually in the bar downstairs not in the theatre, you can even catch it for free!

Savitri is the story of how Savitri outwits Death, who has come to claim her woodcutter husband Satyavan. Holst wrote his own libretto, based on an episode in the Mahabharata, but since there is nothing remotely Indian about the music or this cast designer Rachel Wingate has made the couple Nordic peasants among a forest of hanging scrim. It is clearly and beautifully sung by Natasha Day and David Menezes as the couple and Joseph Padfield as Death to a piano reduction of the score but the faux-antique poetic language of Holst's text does make it difficult to take it as seriously as it is meant, and Menezes, while giving emotional colour vocally, sings without registering to what he is reacting.

Unlike this Savitri, singers often fail to make opera texts comprehensible, especially on high notes, so that one often thinks why bother to set words? In The Waiter's Revenge Stephen Oliver doesn't; he uses gibberish. Music and gesture make his meanings easy to understand in a delightful comedy just for voices. It is about a waiter with a sore head (Jonathan Darbourne), his boss (Ben Thorpe) and their customers. There are a romantic pair (Louise Lloyd and Aidan Smith), a sophisticated couple (Steffan Jones and Elizabeth Menezes) and a lone professor (Joseph Padfield) caught up in mayhem that includes rat poison and a suspicious bag. Beautifully performed and great fun, though if you are going to have your singers turned towards a conductor it is perhaps unwise to stage this entirely in the round.

Back upstairs in the theatre where the set has changed to an amusing abstract design based on the letters H E L P, we are treated to the song about Jenny from Lady in the Dark. delivered with wit by Naomi Kilby, though it would be even better if she would break the rhythm occasionally to point up Ira Gershwin's lyric. David Menezes follows with 'Lonely House' from Street Scene, sung with feeling but wandering pointlessly around the stage as though lacking direction in both senses. Then we get 'Pirate Jenny' from The Threepenny Opera, lustily delivered by Martha McLorinan but lacking quite the chill it should have; again a little more risk in timing is needed.

The programme ends with a musical joke, Hin und Zurück, the melodramatic tale of Helena (Louise Lloyd), a young woman who wakes up on her birthday feeling chipper, and her lover Robert (Ben Thapa) who brings presents. All is well until a maid (Elizabeth Menezes) brings a letter for Helena and then the mayhem begins. The cast deliciously ham it up for the plot sends up typical grand opera scenarios. It begins and ends with a sneeze and the main joke is revealed by its title for, after the lover has killed himself, it rolls back like a video in reverse, though it is not an exact musical palindrome as it goes back phrase by phrase. A piece of enjoyable nonsense, though literally pouring coffee from the cup back into the pot broke an otherwise reverse mimesis without actually getting a laugh.

It is a bit churlish to pick at anything when there is such variety on offer in less than a couple of hours - these rarities are worth catching.

Run at Rosemary Branch ends with a 4pm matinee on 10th October 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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