TAITMAIL Wimbledon’s acting lesson

TAITMAIL Wimbledon’s acting lesson

Wimbledon College of Arts is turfing out its fine arts operation so that it can teach acting. In three years or so, if things go according to plan, half of the thousand students in the leafiest corner of the University of the Arts London (UAL) empire will be performers; the other half will be costume or set designers.

City scope: putting culture alongside housing

City scope: putting culture alongside housing

Last week we brought you the report of the Cultural Cities Enquiry which could shift the base of arts funding in this country. But what does it mean? Jonathan Todd, chief economist at BOP Consulting, was part of the research team that led the UK-wide consultation process and provided the year-long enquiry with its essential data

RA picks Axel Rűger as new CEO

RA picks Axel Rűger as new CEO

Axel Rűger, director of Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, is to succeed Sir Charles Saumarez Smith as secretary and chief executive of the Royal Academy.

Fatoş Üstek next Liverpool Biennial director

Fatoş Üstek next Liverpool Biennial director

The new director of the Liverpool Biennial is to be the Turkish-born curator and writer Fatoş Üstek.

Making an art school for actors

Making an art school for actors

Can - should - an art school teach acting? The University of the Arts shares its plans for Wimbledon with Simon Tait

Arts ‘treading water’ on diversity

An Arts Council England report published today shows that its National Portfolio Organisation clients are not progressing enough with implementing diversity.

Darwin ‘Origin’ page may be sold abroad

Darwin ‘Origin’ page may be sold abroad

A temporary export bar has been placed on a handwritten page from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

Laurie Sansom is new boss of Northern Broadsides

Laurie Sansom is new boss of Northern Broadsides

Northern Broadsides has appointed Laurie Sansom as its new artistic director and CEO in June this year.

TALK OF THE TOWN HALL  Council of despair?

TALK OF THE TOWN HALL Council of despair?

Patrick Kelly hears the latest municipal whispers

First steps

First steps

The National Youth Dance Company is in rehearsal for its seventh professional new production – with it seventh new troupe. Simon Tait talks to the company’s general manager Hannah Kirkpatrick

New trust to give London artists affordable studios

Private and public funding are coming together to create an independent trust to provide affordable workspaces for artists in London.

MA warns of ‘highly damaging’ No Deal

Association fears museums face substantial losses

The real Mary Queen of Scots

The real Mary Queen of Scots

A rare and frank portrait of the teenage Mary Queen of Scots goes on display at Hever Castle on Friday, February 8, the anniversary of her execution in 1587.

‘Culture key to cities’ growth’ – report

‘Culture key to cities’ growth’ – report

Investment in culture is the key to our cities’ growth, according to a report published today.

How reviving Bodies makes theatre magic

How reviving Bodies makes theatre magic

The husband-and-wife team of Tricia Thorns and Graham Cowley, who operate as Two’s Company, rediscover a forgotten 20thcentury theatre masterpieces and produce them. Their latest, as Simon Tait discovers, is a James Saunders gem

Jerwood fall-out threatens Hastings gallery

Jerwood fall-out threatens Hastings gallery

A “family” row is threatening the future of the award-winning Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, with the venue’s sponsors, the Jerwood Foundation, withdrawing its collection of British art and financial support.

Cinema audiences boom from UK productions

Cinema audiences boom from UK productions

UK cinema audiences have reached record numbers, with the second highest spend on film and TV production in this country.

Maritime museum chief steps down

Maritime museum chief steps down

Kevin Fewster, director of Royal Museums Greenwich since 2007, is to stand down having transformed the former National Maritime Museum with muliti-million-pound developments.

TAITMAIL The Grand Old Dame of York

TAITMAIL The Grand Old Dame of York

By Patrick Kelly

It’s always a privilege to watch a master at work, and audiences at York’s Theatre Royal were honoured to witness Berwick Kaler’s 40thand final season as panto dame. The season, as usual, has been a complete sell-out as theatregoers trampled on each other to acquire tickets for this last opportunity to see a superb craftsman go about his business.

Ex-BBC White City centre to be theatre complex

Ex-BBC White City centre to be theatre complex

The BBC’s former media village at White City in West London is to become a large-scale pop-up theatre, opening this summer.

Survey reveals massive council cuts

Council spending on museums, libraries, arts, and culture has been slashed by nearly almost £400m since 2010.

THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM    Image of the month

THE ART OF PHOTOJOURNALISM Image of the month

Beyond the Deepening Shadow, The Tower of London, November 2018, by Jeremy Selwyn

‘Their finest hour’ becomes Biggin Hill museum

‘Their finest hour’ becomes Biggin Hill museum

Biggin Hill Airfield, one of the main stations flor the Battle of Britain in 1940, is having its  timeless story told in a museum that opens today.

DEA BIRKETT     But seriously – welcome!

DEA BIRKETT But seriously – welcome!

In the latest in her series marking the 250th anniversary of the circus, Dea Birkett – the official Ringmaster of Circus250 – finds that media misuse of circus language shows disrespect of a gentle art

OPERA Making progress

A new opera company is a collaboration of practitioners and friends determined to pare away the mystique and present the art for its audiences. Simon Tait met OperaGlass Works

I t’s not unheard of for leading cultural practitioners to take their artform by the scruff of the neck and shake it into a modern context – in lm Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D W Griffith did it almost a century ago to create United Artists so that actors and directors could have more control of what they did rather than working to the diktats of a larger corporation – but it’s rare. More often groups of actors/ singers/writers/dancers/musicians will gather in a pub, complain about their lot, vow to change, and in the cold light of day prefer to stick with job security.

OperaGlass Works, however, is very likely to change the way we appreciate opera for ever, with a philosophy that might well adapt to theatre and other performance. And it has been created not by a group of callow hopefuls, but a team of senior practitioners in the midst of successful careers. OperaGlass Works’ first production is Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, opening at Wilton’s Music Hall next month.

The team is taking no pay for its work, and has been compiling its plans over time, with the company formed a year ago. There are no offices. They meet in coffee bars around Lon- don and in their homes. And the key, they say, is that they are all friends who have worked together before, and who each brings their own set of contacts and skills. Between them they have raised every penny of the £100,000 it is costing to produce the opera.

Selina Cadell is familiar to television viewers, most recently in Doc Martin with Martin Clunes in which she plays Mrs Tishell, but less well known is her role as head of drama at the National Opera Studio, as a coach at the Royal Opera House and English National Opera, and a director of both opera and drama.


 

Eliza Thompson is a composer, music director and producer, who works in lm, television and theatre, and has often worked with Cadell as co-producer.

Laurence Cummings, harpsichordist, conductor and early music specialist, is the music director of the London Handel Orchestra.

The lead character of Tom Rakewell will be taken by the young tenor Robert Murray who has sung with every major opera company in the country.

The set is designed by Tom Piper who is perhaps the most sought-after set designer in the country, and is the former associate designer with the RSC who helped create its new museum. Costumes are by Rosalind Ebbutt who created the costumes for the cur- rent ITV blockbuster Victoria.

OperaGlass Works is what it suggests: a transparent organisation that gets to the “bare bones” – Thompson’s phrase – of the art form without dispensing with the magic. We meet in a coffee house in Haverstock Hill near the private house being lent by a patron for a fundraising concert performance of the opera for which they are preparing.

We have wonderful opera in Britain now, but the way it is produced with lavish sets and costumes adding noughts to the ticket prices leads to the adjective “elitist”, Cadell says. It is almost as if the audience is being al- lowed to witness performances rather than being performed to.

“Great opera houses have historical productions that have gone on for many, many years, which I think actually constrains casts, they’re not really part of collaborative process” she says.

“They y in and do two days’ rehearsal, they don’t have a particular bond with the company, they don’t necessarily want to pick up the hand- kerchief where so-and-so picked it up before, but they don’t really have the time to find their own way through. That’s one element, having worked in opera for 20 years, that needs changing. Singers need to be more empowered to discover their own projects and make them happen.”

Another problem that needs to be addressed is that word “elitism” she says. “It’s ridiculous because music speaks to something that has nothing to do with the brain and needs to be free of those constraints. Along with elitism comes money, so we also feel that what we want to do is bring exquisite opera to small spaces at lower prices to a new audience. There are lots of opera companies around and they are good, but we’re talking about bringing quite famous people, a rather stellar cast”.

Thompson adds that there is another way of putting on opera. “There’s quite a lot of pub opera and country house opera, but this is something different again, perhaps more in the strain of theatre productions, smaller scale, very well done, and the key is that it is a collaborative exercise”.

Stravinsky’s 1951 opera The Rake’s Progress is the composer’s attempt to bring the 18th century into the 20th, with a libretto by W H Auden and Chester Kallman, and based on Hogarth’s series of paintings now in the Sir John Soane’s Museum.

The company chose Wilton’s for its intimate nature, and because Thompson and Cadell had collabo- rated on Congreve’s The Way of the World there two years ago – they considered a Shoreditch church, but would have had to provide the front-of-house, an extra expense. The 19-piece orchestra is the young play- ers of the Southbank Sinfonia whom Cummings will conduct from the harpsichord in 18th century style, playing on-stage. Ebbutt’s costumes are not period, certainly not elaborate, but are elegantly suggestive of the early 18th century; Piper’s set is spare but subtly descriptive. The production will run for six nights, and ticket prices will range from £15 to £23.

The company’s approach is to strip the opera of its mystique to make it more tangible for the audience, as Murray, who plays opposite the Royal Opera House’s newest star soprano, Susanna Hurrell, explains. He was introduced to 18th century music by Selina Cadell at the National Opera Studio, and has since made it a speciality. But the modern script has been a challenge.

“It’s slightly off centre” he says “but it seems to suit everything we’re trying to do. You need to really engage with the words so you can get it over to the audience. A com- mon misconception is that you need to put a modern spin on an opera to give it a contemporary feel, but as we’ve delved into exactly what was written and committed to it – it’s amazing how many stage directions there are to do with engaging with the audience – we’ve found the way into the work without updating it. That’s very important, and it can be tricky.”

Eliza Thompson underlines the point. “There’s a slight sense in conventional opera of the Emperor’s New Clothes, adding new layers to something that really doesn’t need them. What might be new is that we’re not doing anything to it. I hope we can engage with the whole score and embrace it – have these doors to the work open rather than closed, and what that enables is on-going choice, a live feeling.”

Rake’s Progress is at Wilton’s November 17-25, go to www.wiltons.org.uk/ whatson/362-the-rake-s-progress

 

 

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