Tuesday, 25 February 2014

ENOScreen: Peter Grimes (live)

On Sunday, the English National Opera brought a live performance of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes to cinema screens across the UK. Directed by David Alden and starring Stuart Skelton and Eliza van den Heever, it was a revival of the acclaimed 2009 ENO production. This was opera on the big screen and seen in a completely new way.

When I discussed the broadcast with music video and film director Andy Morahan for a BBC Music Magazine article last week, he described the more immersive, direct and varied way he was planning to shoot the production. My colleague watched the production from the Coliseum on the same day and when I asked her if the use of on-stage and reverse cameras was noticeable, she said (as Morahan himself attested) she didn't see them once. Incredible.

To locate the stage in its space, the cameras panned the audience before the action started. Clemency Burton-Hill gave a short introduction and then we were into the opera and that iconic 'Peter Grimes! Peter Grimes!' opening. It really was a stunning performance – really chilling and powerful overall, and featuring absolutely superb performances from every member of the cast. Skelton, in particular, was breathtaking as Grimes, with the range of his voice and striking portrayal of an isolated, scared and frightening man.

There was documentary footage during the intermissions, which really contextualised the production without distracting from the end spectacle. And what seeing the show at the cinema gave us were brilliant close-ups: I get the impression we saw many more details (facial expressions, the sweat of effort) than those in the back row seats of the theatre.

Details, such as in Act II, Scene I when Ellen knits and removes her shoes, and the end of Act II, Scene II where Grimes cradles the dead boy distraught, felt so clear and close. And such high drama was perfectly captured by the cameras when the apprentice boy fell to his death in the end of Act II. The camera's ability to capture close-ups was also particularly affective in the final scene during Grimes's moving solo aria.

The orchestra, under Edward Gardner, brought real energy to Britten's score, providing such tender accompaniment to the solo arias as well.

Something that was strange was not to clap with the audience to congratulate the cast on being so wonderful at the end of scenes. When it finished, we just shuffled out of the cinema, perhaps missing the visceral experience of actually attending opera. But it was absolutely thrilling to see this amazing Grimes played out live on the big screen. Andy Morohan and his team really have achieved something special with their immersive filming of Grimes, and this ENO production is second to none.

The final showing of ENO's Peter Grimes is at 7pm on Thursday 27th February at London Coliseum.
Visit: eno.org

Monday, 24 February 2014

Music: Warpaint, 02 Academy Bristol

Last Friday I got myself down to the O2 Academy in Bristol to see the amazing Warpaint on tour with their new album Love Is To Die. To say I was anything near a super-fan when I walked in would be dishonest, but I had definitely fallen for them by the time I left.

Ultra-cool and drooling Los Angeles superiority into every well-crafted song, the four piece all-girl indie rock band was assured, precise and engaging. Tracks from the new album including Love Is To Die, Hi and Feeling Alright ('this is our attempt at a feel good song') went down so well. And an extended encore that included Billie Holiday and Elephants was the first explosive moment of the night. It never got 'dance-y' exactly, but these girls really know how to hold a crowd.

The sound is definitely 'LA' to me. All the girls sing on different tracks, with Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman fronting on guitar, Jenny Lee Lindberg on bass and Stella Mozgawa playing drums.

If anything, the set felt pretty short when Warpaint said 'thank you. Good night!' for the first time. But the encore was as inevitable (as they all too often are when a band finishes an hour before curfew) as the songs that would be included, and pretty affective the way it played out. Another fantastic Bristol gig.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Music: Anna Calvi, Bath Komedia

Anna Calvi plays Bath Komedia, 12th February 2014 | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Witnessing Anna Calvi perform live is revelatory. Not only has she got one of the most powerful – and varied – voices I have heard, but her guitar playing is technically outstanding and fearlessly unique. In the space of just one song she draws you in with a voice that seems so fragile that it will break, before hitting you with unbelievably powerful vocals and a solo that she rips effortlessly through a carefully distorted guitar.

Calvi's second album, One Breath, which came out in October, has widely been admired as a visceral and turbulent sophomore, equal to the first. Eliza is a strong and passionate love declaration, countered by the delicate and tortured Piece By Piece. One of my favourite moments of the evening was the stillness of Sing To Me – so gorgeous. And there were plenty of favourites from the debut, including Jezebel and Suzanne and I.

Supporting tonight at the Komedia was Woman's Hour offering melancholic shoegaze with plenty of warm synths and bass beats. Lovely stuff.

Woman's Hour, Bath Komedia | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Anna Calvi, Bath Komedia | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Anna Calvi, Bath Komedia | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Visit: annacalvi.com

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Art: Oneself As Another, Royal West of England Academy

The Royal West of England Academy is currently hosting a series of exhibitions that revolve around notions of identity, self and image.

Oneself As Another, curated in association with bo.lee projects, is a presentation of works from painters, sculptors and photographers who challenge concepts of 'perfection' in the human form. Whilst focusing on 'imperfection' – or rather aspects of the human appearance that are not universally/generically praised as 'perfect' or beautiful – the works highlight differences rather than the all-too-often highly valued stereotype of beauty.

The centrepiece is Ione Rucquoi's striking Sanctae. An installation of 28 larger-than-life photographs of female nudes, the piece forces us to think about the transformation of a woman's body through childbirth. To an almost-uncomfortable extent, Rucqoui confronts us with flesh, pain and the aspects often deemed as shameful or embarrassing during pregnancy and early motherhood. There is a strong religious element with halos adorning the women and the space having been architecturally-devised to feel sacred.  Scars, weight-gain and lines of leaked milk, it's all there, and to stunning effect.

Cathy Lewis's statues are exquisite and charming. Smooth white casts decorated with ornate patterns and unexpected garments, her pieces in this exhibition focus on diverse cultural celebration. I loved being greeted by three figures in Pomp and Bric-a-Brac upon arriving at the exhibition.

Also included are several paintings by english surrealist Francis Bacon and some striking sketches by Lucian Freud. Johan Andersson supplies large portraits of visually-impaired subjects from his Stolen Faces series. From across the room, these hold an inescapable gaze.

Tom Butler's Cabinet of Curiosities Series is careful and exquisite – a collection of antique photographs altered to test perceptions of what an antique photograph can be. And Sarah Ball's collection of small portraits is similarly thought-provoking.

We were, of course, unable to avoid the painful cliché of a plain mirror entitled Your Authorised Reflection by Gavin Turk – it had to be in there somewhere. Look out for Rosie Pentreath's Your Face and Here's Looking At You in future exhibitions. No, in seriousness, Turk's work challenges us to think about authorship, self-portraiture and how a person's reflection (visual and psychological, perhaps) can change based on situation and a sense of one's self.

Other works included brook & black's video installation commentating on twentieth-century self portraiture, pieces from Bob Carlos Clarke, sculpture exploring ethnic origins by Emil Alzamora, oil paintings by Neil Moore and Wanda Bernardino and a caricature of actor John Malkovich by Stuart Wiggins

For those interested multi-media portraiture, it is an absolute must-see.

Pomp and Bric-a-Brac, Cathy Lewis | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Everything, Emil Alzamora; in the background: works by brook & black, Johan Andersson and Emil Alzamora | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
The Paisley Boys, Cathy Lewis | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Your Authorised Reflection, Gavin Turk and Nakaia, Johan Andersson | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Jerry, Johan Andersson and Orlando, Cathy Lewis | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Sactae (detail), Ione Rucquoi | Photo: artfund.org.uk

Ancestors, Emil Alzamora | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Orlando, Cathy Lewis;  Nakaia, Johan Andersson and Ancestors, Emil Alzamora | Photo: Rosie Pentreath
Malkovich, Stuart Wiggins | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Entrance to Oneself as Another, Royal West of England Academy | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

By the entrance to Oneself as Another, Royal West of England Academy | Photo: Rosie Pentreath

Oneself As Another runs until 26 March 2014.

Also showing at the RWA is Actors and Artifice, featuring portraits of actors throughout history from the gallery's own holdings; Idols and Illusions, iconic photographs of stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood from the John Kobal Foundation; and Likenesses, a collections of photographs by Judith Aronson.

Visit: rwa.org.uk

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Music: The Madness Game, Bierkeller Theatre

Tonight I was delighted to have been invited by a friend to Little Room Productions's latest showcase of operatic talent in Bristol. We enjoyed the world premieres of two operas in the gorgeously sticky-shabby setting of the Bierkeller Theatre just off Nelson Street in Bristol.

Matthew Olyver's The Boar's Head is a tale of repression, desire and heartache set in the bar of a pub – all destructive emotions set to an exquisitely controlled score for string quartet. There were moments of utter clarity and space, but the piece felt a little under-prepared and poorly paced as a whole.

After the interval though, Jacob Bright's The Madness Game utterly blew me away. Directed by Charis Lawry-White who called for a refreshingly sparse backdrop and striking use of lighting, the opera was scored for string quartet as well. Featuring powerful performances from Jack Hamilton, Edmund Danon and Laura Curry as a psychiatric patient, his warden and a psychotherapist (respectively) embroiled in the politics, plots, and fears of an asylum, the libretto (by Harry Benfield) and music are perfectly balanced to result in a piece that is clever, witty and self aware. The fine line between sanity and its opposite, and the foundations of reason are well and truly tested by the plot: this is a succinct analysis of the inescapable essence of fragility in the human condition, and it is stunning stuff that leaves your mind reeling.

The Madness Game | Photo: Little Room Productions/promotional

Visit: facebook.com/littleroompresents