Let’s make things clear: this is not a post about the Marx Brothers (though I reserve the right to slip in a gag or even an allusion if the context permits). But for the first time in my life, I am going to see an Opera, even though that really isn’t my sort of thing.
If you look to the Links sidebar on this blog, you will see Charlotte Hoather.com. Charlotte is a soprano with a growing reputation, based on a great voice, unbounding enthusiasm and a dedication to the craft and her roles. She is currently singing the lead role of Pandora – she of the infamous Box – in the new opera, The Fyre of Olympus, which is playing for one night at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester on Saturday night, 28 September. And I am going.
Of course, the first question is why? And the answer is that several years ago, when she was still studying in Glasgow, Charlotte started her blog and quickly built an initial wave of support by visiting and commenting on many other sites. I checked out hers in reciprocation, and we’ve been internet friends ever since (by coincidence, we share the same birthdate, though hers is many years more recent!)
I’ve seen Charlotte sing live twice to date, one an ensemble show in Stockport that included songs from Les Miserables, and once at a lunchtime recital in Bury, where I had the chance to introduce myself to her. As well as her excellent voice, she really is a nice young woman, so let’s see how I fare on my first ever Night at the Opera.
Now that the time has come, I’m wishing it didn’t have to be this Night. It’s a lousy day, and I’ve been drenched three or four times already, but most of all it’s been a rotten week and I’m exhausted, physically and mentally, and fit for nothing. But one has to support one’s friends, and I’ve paid for the ticket, so I’m not changing my mind.
My seat, when I got to it, was truly front and centre: middle of the front row. I last enjoyed such a privileged position when my then wife-to-be, much wilier than I when it came to the availability of late release tickets for sold-out gigs, got us onto the front row for Warren Zevon at the Lowry in 2000.
Don’t for one minute expect me to comment about the music for I haven’t the least qualifications so to do. I heard nothing wrong in either orchestra or any of the singing. But if this is Opera, then I’m not impressed. To me it seemed to be a dramatic form consisting of infinite repetition of the same thing, over and over and over (at one point, Prometheus, in the second half, sang ‘they told me you were dead’ thirteen times in thirteen and a half lines: believe me, I got it first one). A first half of 70 minutes would have struggled to fill 15 if this were a play.
Until the end of the first half, I found Charlotte to be dreadfully underused, given only occasional half lines to sing, and off stage for longer than each of the other four singers. When she was onstage, she was excellent in her dramatic role, though Pandora as a petty functionary, long blonde hair dragged back into a single braid, supercilious and sneery, was a far cry from the lady in real life. Where was that lovely grin?
But she came into her own in her solo, leading into the interval. Zeus has casually instructed her to find Epithemeus and seduce ‘him’, though the word seduce is not used: instead, we get, ‘it’s just a fuck’. This shocked and horrified the otherwise loyal and ambitious Pandora into her own revolution, and provided Charlotte with an opportunity for real passion in her singing.
Unfortunately, the interval just brought back my overpowering weariness, leaving me struggling all the more. Frankly, by the second half, the only bits I was interested in were those with Charlotte, and they didn’t start for twenty minutes that included three lengthy spells of offstage noises or music that, as far as I could tell, were included to pad things out. Once Charlotte got back on stage she sang a powerful duet with Epithemeus before leading ‘him’ to the dungeon to free Prometheus (‘they told me you were dead’), and then wimping out with an inexplicable song of moral collapse into defeatism.
After that, she was confined to reaction shots until it was all over and then, when the cast were taking their bows, we finally got that brilliant Hoather smile. I didn’t try to hang around the stage door in the hope of saying hello, because I was bushed and wanted to go home and sleep.
So: an experience, and a delight to see and hear my friend again, but not something I’m likely to repeat any time soon.