Popped along to the Ignite weekend today at the ROH. Didn’t bowl me over particularly, but it makes for an interesting hour or two wandering around the Royal Opera House for free.
Trying to decipher the programme in advance was impossible. When you arrive, you get a free programme. Your starting point is the Linbury (if you follow the guide) and, in the foyer, there’s a kids’ giant ball kickaround area. If I say that the programme describes the “inflatable, petalled balls” as being “inspired by the bright, jewel colours of Japanese forests”, you’ll get an immediate sense of the hyperbole at work.
In the Linbury itself, there’s an eerie and really rather good woodland space, complete with rubber chippings for bark mulch, that you can wander in the gloom. Unfortunately, it’s also occupied by various musical installations and performances. When I was there, a pianist and two percussionist were hammering away respectively on a grand piano, drums, tin cans and other ephemera, whilst a sound engineer periodically interjected snippets of Tchaikovsky symphony and the overture to Der Fliegende Hollander. Still, nice forest.
One of the attractions was being able to nose about where normally (on a performance night) you can’t go. We’ll gloss over the fact that, whilst the building was awash with the ‘new’ audience that the ROH presumably hope (in part) to attract, they had spectacularly missed an opportunity by having the main auditorium well and truly closed off. Anyway, we got to see the ‘Supper Rooms’ (as per the programme) or ‘Trust Rooms’ (as per the sign over the door). These were a set of rather dingy (or is it ‘dingey’?) basement rooms in the old building in which, one assumes, members of the Royal Opera House Trust get to hide from the plebs in the Crush Bar for a spot of dinner with guests.
Four of them had been given over to a form of tableaux vivant-cum-vignette drawn on the themes of four operas: La Traviata, Der Rosenkavalier, Tosca and Hansel und Gretel. ‘Traviata’ was a coffin with flowers in 19th century form, with a woman in black (one assumes, Annina), weeping at a shrine. ‘Tosca’ had a rather fey-looking Scarpia interrogating a Cavaradossi. In ‘Hansel und Gretel’, you were assailed by faux scientists who wanted to tell you about an archeological dig in Germany in the 1930s that unearthed marzipan doorhandles and liquorice fittings. And in ‘Rosenkavalier’, the anxieties of the aristocratic menage-a-trois were re-enacted (Sophie, I think, pictured).
Up in the Crush Room, someone sang some opera. Amidst an installation entitled ‘Faded Forest’ (you’ll notice the ‘forests’ theme). Pictured left, this centred on an artful arrangement of old ROH costumes to create a curious harem effect (think Schlesinger’s take on the Giulietta act of Contes d’Hoffman, but cheaper). At one end a small music hall-style stage was where there were periodic performances by current and former Jette Parker Young Artists.
When we were there, Ana James and Kishani Jayasinghe performed, inter alia, Mozart’s Sull’aria… Che soave zeffiretto and Deh, vieni, non tardar (James) from The Marriage of Figaro, and Dvořák’s Song to the Moon (Jayasinghe) from Rusalka. The latter was very successful indeed. The accompaniment was a piano, and percussion was provided by the coffee bar set up in the neighbouring Conservatory.
One of the more interesting installations – oh, now we’re off up to the Lambert Studio, which is the ‘no public access’ bit at the end of the Loggia outside the Amphitheatre Bar – was a table of metronomes. All wound up to specified different extents, they were merrily winding themselves down in a piece by Ligeti: Poème Symphonique. And here, I have to agree with the programme booklet: “surprisingly compelling and moving, this piece never fails to fascinate”. I wouldn’t go as far as to add “suggesting all kinds of meanings”, but it certainly was engaging and mesmerising.
Finally, it was up to the Clore Studio (via some dance happening in the Paul Hamlyn Hall) for a short animated feature from 1922 by Lotte Reiniger. An energetic and captivating (though dark) version of Cinderella, undertaken with scissors and paper, was accompanied by characterful and elegant playing of violin and accordion by Alexander Balanescu and Evelina Petrova respectively, she adding a vocal element to illustrate the chatter of crowds, the cooing of the ugly sisters and the huffing of the wicked stepmother. I won’t easily forget the simple animated silhouette image of a huge chunk of heel being cut off with a knife in order to fit the shoe. This followed by the prince taking the ugly sister away on horseback, her foot dripping blood as they went…
All in all a worthwhile afternoon. It was informal, though in parts too informal, in that it was for the most part a relaxing wander, but performances were wont to be interrupted by chatter, clatter and patter (of tiny feet). I would recommend that, in future, the ROH use opportunities like this to enable people to roam and experience the ‘established’ performance space – the main stage/auditorium – otherwise it just feels like someone else has rented out the building, rather than the theatre being an integral part of proceedings. And, yes, it’s contemporary art, so it feels the need to inflate its presentation with some rather grandiose language in the programme.
Finally, it was nice being able to roam with a camera, but there was no clarity about the whether you could take pictures, so there seemed a number of people clutching their SLRs but not using them, clearly unsure of the rules. Frankly, it’s a free-form art space so I think it should be positively encouraged when it’s not otherwise disturbing a performance.
But hey, I’m quibbling: overall, a pleasantly diverting afternoon.