Hampstead Garden Opera: L'Egisto
- Credit: Laurent Compagnon.
After a fraught Saturday afternoon working out which bits of London’s transport system were working, it was lovely to receive a warm welcome from the staff at The Cockpit Theatre in Lisson Grove.
They worked hard make the Covid-safe arrival and settling process as pleasant as possible. But in this medium size theatre-in-the-round, the twenty-or-so souls who gathered to hear the music of Venice’s Cavalli rather rattled round in a space designed for hundreds.
Like many 17th century operas, the music is sublime but the plot is virtually unfathomable - involving pirates, gods, lovers separated, new loves, the intervention of Cupid (the wonderfully Puckish Stephanie Hershaw) and lovers re-united.
Happily, there was a large subtitle gizmo - although it threw up some delicious translations. From the weird (“They are wandering around the forest bathing each other with love”) to the cheesy (“I escaped the chains and now return as a prisoner of your beauty”.)
Hampstead Garden Opera's Baroque Orchestra was superb: confident and nuanced, as was the singing with several superb voices and terrific performances. Director Marcio da Silva’s challenge was to stage a passionate and sensual narrative in a socially distant setting and keep the magic simmering for 2 and a half hours.
His team excelled in all areas. The set was dominated by a Tate Turbine Hall-style sun disc whose illumination and colour changed subtly, and a pair of ceiling-to-floor translucent damask strips: veils of ignorance perhaps. Mime and dance was used to explore emotions and Christian Hey’s costume design was utilitarian but excellent.
However, the dressing-up box was raided when, inexplicably, Apollo appeared in a scarlet frock with matching opera gloves. If you must do this, there are plenty of peak viewing TV programmes that show how to do it properly. And a threatened suicide lost its impact when a fish knife, rather than a gleaming stiletto, was poised over the trembling breast.
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HGO may be a non-professional not for profit outfit, but this production once again demonstrated that what they deliver is far from amateur. 4/5 stars.