Tete-a-Tete


Arriving at The Place for Tete-a-Tete’s opera festival last night, I found an opera just starting on the pavement outside. This was My Mother, My Daughter by Orlando Gough. Two women leapt into action – one had just given birth to the other, and in what seemed like mere moments, the whole life story of a mother-daughter partnership had been described, ending in the mother’s sad, cloudy death. (Please note, my customarily chaotic photograph has accidentally included an actual mother and daughter walking up the road, behind the ‘opera’.) I was very moved, while simultaneously trying to avoid my own premature end from cars driving through Dukes Road as a cut-through.

Inside I joined an exceptionally elegant audience for Sacred Mountain by Shirley J Thompson; a selection of scenes from the life of Queen Nanny of the Maroons, a national heroine in Jamaica, who led resistance by the Maroons (escaped slaves in the Jamaican Highlands) in the early 18th century. I have to say on behalf of opera, if you attend this artform just a bit, your historical knowledge effortlessly improves. Shirley had done a splendid job on the fluent lyrical music, with a score skilfully integrating synthesiser harmony with two great parts for trumpet and drum/mbira; circumventing the characteristically small budgets at tete-a-tete demands extra technical skill from composers. Also admirable was Abigail Kelly’s masterful performance of the title role.

After some dispiriting times in the world of the UK’s subsidised opera – John Berry’s enforced departure from ENO, the recent ugly argument about production styles at Covent Garden – what a yearly pleasure it is to waltz in to Tete-a-Tete and see a banquet of off-beat art presented with such enthusiasm and gusto by a gang of people who otherwise might never be seen on the ‘proper’ opera stage. My favourite announcement from this year’s programme prefaced Song Queen: A Pidgin Opera (which alas I missed seeing): 'After watching Wagner’s Parsifal at the Royal Opera House in 2013, Helen Parker-Jayne Isibor looked around and said, “I’m going to pidgin up this entire situation” '. And so say all of us !

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer

© Judith Weir, 2020