From Russia With Love
Dir. Max Hoehn, Theatre Royal Glasgow, 25th February
As someone who grew up watching James Bond movies, I was very much looking forward to the compilation of Russian operas that is From Russia With Love.
Two arias from Nickolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel make for an excellent start. Impressive vocal performances from Feargal Mostyn-Williams and Carly Owen, coupled with a grotesque cardboard cutout of Donald Trump as the ridiculous Tsar Dodon create a colourful, extravagant opening to the afternoon.
The set, with its three elevators and balcony, allows characters to appear and disappear as if out of a magician’s top hat. Its simplicity is very effective and caters for the wide range of scenes and arias from different operas. The programme strikes a good balance between comedy and tragedy, between light and heartfelt, thus showcasing the skill and versatility of both the orchestra and the performers.
As much as I appreciated the effort to make the staging of operas more modern and relevant to current affairs, in the case of Popova’s Aria from William Walton’s The Bear, it fails to be effective. In a scene meant to deal humorously with the bad deeds of an unfaithful husband, I hardly think it appropriate, let alone sensitive, to link it to the #metoo campaign. A large proportion of the house starts laughing at women holding onto #metoo placards while the womanizer’s widow ridicules the situation. No matter how honourable the intentions of the staging, the result leaves me with a very uncomfortable sense of women’s experiences being taken as a joke.
This particular staging issue aside, transitions between different operas need shortening; the pauses between acts feel slightly jarring, taking me abruptly out of my immersion in the music. It may have been more effective to drop the curtain less frequently, and make use of the possibilities of the set to smooth scene changes.
The afternoon ends with the duel scene from Tchaikovski’s Eugene Onegin, and I have goosebumps. From Russia With Love, an altogether enjoyable experience (albeit with significant problems) comes to an beautiful, emotional conclusion which tugs at the heartstrings.