Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Philistines, good and bad

July 09, 2007

Philip O'Brien as Gerald and Allison Bell as Lakmé
Photo: Opera Holland Park 2007

With all the big activity this week I’ve neglected to comment on a number of events including my visit to the Royal Academy of Art’s Summer Exhibit (which seemed loaded with interesting sculpture this year) and Opera Holland Park’s new production of Lakmé, which opened Tuesday amidst some pretty heavy rain. Luckily things let up enough so that everyone could sit there in the freezing cold while being subjected to the first real Gunga Din-tribute production I’ve experienced. Oh, musically and vocally it wasn’t bad, and I’m sure Theda Bara would be happy to know that her acting legacy is influencing a whole new generation of stage performers such as Allison Bell whose Lakmé against Philip O'Brien's Gerard gave The Peril's of Pauline a run for its money. Bell frequently hits the high notes and often maintained pitch with them when she did. Plus, who knew a Brahmin princess would have such great bangs? To be fair this isn’t a major big-bucks production, and Delibes' work is a bit frothy to begin with, but I think Opera Holland Park could have done better. The real question is where is all the outcry over this mess in the local press? I guess everyone’s too busy being woefully misguided in their negative take on Glyndebourne’s new production of J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion, which is great and a must-see despite what you read in the papers.

Phil Davis as Vassily (standing), Rory Kinnear as Pyotr and Ruth Wilson as Tanya
Photo: Catherine Ashmore/NT 2007

Maybe I should focus on something more positive. OK, how about the really good Andrew Upton adaptation of Maxim Gorky’s Philistines at the Lyttleton Theater. It seems that in the wake of The Coast of Utopia in New York, wordy, intellectual Russian drama is all the rage. But when it is done this well, it is easy to see why. These two and a half hours of philosophical debate and intergenerational strife fly by in an adaptation and staging that is funny, sharp, and good looking. Who’s responsible? Well the director, Howard Davies, who keeps the pacing tight and keeps everyone from lapsing into pontification mode throughout. The other major asset is a fine cast of both veterans and newcomers including Ruth Wilson as Tanya and Rory Kinnear as Pyotr, the brother and sister trying to reconcile their family traditions with knowledge and a new world they are coming into. The father Vassily, played by Phil Davis, and the family’s lodger Teterev (Conleth Hill) provide a bittersweet counterbalance in representing the old guard. A lovely time and highly recommended.

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