The Monstrous Child Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, London
With this new show getting its world premiere, the refurbished Linbury Theatre in the bowels of the Royal Opera House reopens for operatic business.
It’s more comfortable now, and some claim the acoustics are better. Certainly the refreshment areas are much more user- friendly, but inside it remains an uncomfortable auditorium to access, with lots of steps and congestion.
I wouldn’t want to be around if a fire broke out.
The Monstrous Child begins promisingly, with brilliantly staging. The titular child is ‘half human, half corpse’ and Marta Fontanals-Simmons (above) is to be praised for her fine singing
‘This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper,’ wrote T S Eliot. He could have had in mind the way The Monstrous Child just peters out; its second act goes nowhere, with an interminable (though well sung) monologue from the Monstrous Child herself.
Sad because it all begins rather promisingly, with some high-octane, brilliantly staged vulgarity that would be worthy of Roald Dahl himself, put over by an enthusiastic cast and excellent puppeteers.
The giantess Angrboda, half puppet, half mezzo Rosie Aldridge, lies in labour. From her, two mini-monsters emerge, followed by the Monstrous Child, winningly described by the author of this masterpiece as ‘half human, half corpse’.
Too much turns on the ghastly smell exuded by the lower half of the Monstrous Child. Smells can be funny, but none of this stuff is. Above: Laura Caldow and Lucy Schaufer
The Monstrous Child’s career as the Queen Of The Dead is then charted in increasingly tedious detail. Despite some fine singing, particularly by the Monstrous Child, soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons, it proves impossible to turn the base metal of this unprepossessing plot into gold.
IT’S A FACT
The Monstrous Child author Francesca Simon is better known for her Horrid Henry series, which has sold more than 18 million copies.
Too much turns on the ghastly smell exuded by the lower half of the Monstrous Child. Smells can of course be funny, especially for children, but none of this stuff is; it veers between the embarrassing and the utterly disgusting, and in the end destroys the piece as effective music drama.
The author-turned-librettist here, Francesca Simon, makes increasingly heavy weather of it. And sadly, the show isn’t rescued by the music of the talented Gavin Higgins.
It is full of life, with plenty of punch, and he’s a terrific orchestrator in the modernist style. Unfortunately, the music exists merely as a commentary on the flawed plot, and is borne down by it.
Così Fan Tutte
Royal Opera House Until Mar 16
I’m not big on Così – Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto is too misogynistic for me; the comedy almost entirely based on women being so stupid they can get off with their best mate’s man without knowing it’s him.
Please! But this revival makes a strong case for Così for three reasons.
First, director Jan Philipp Gloger’s production is fun. During the overture, as actors pretending to be cast members glorying in their applause are replaced by the real singers masquerading as members of the audience.
The Royal Opera’s revival of Così Fan Tutte is excellent, with Stefano Montanari making a first class debut as conductor and a fun production. Above: Serena Malfi and Gyula Orendt
Gloger is simply saying: ‘Hey, this is just theatre – nothing to do with real life.’ And his production is extremely pretty to look at, with Ben Baur’s Garden of Eden set in Act 1, complete with a huge (fake) snake, a real triumph.
Second, the debutant conductor Stefano Montanari is first class both with the baton and playing the fortepiano continuo. Coming from a period performance background, he gives the music some much needed zip.
Third, and best of all, there’s the return of the veteran Sir Thomas Allen (who started at Covent Garden in 1971!) as surely the most urbane of all Don Alfonsos of recent times.
And he’s well backed up by an experienced team of lovers and a charismatic Despina in Serena Gamberoni.
These lovers are not ideally young but all of them are singers of quality.
Sadly, this excellent evening is not in the cinemas.