DRESS REHEARSAL – OSO Arts Centre, London.
The idea behind Dress Rehearsal is simply to give some aspiring opera singers the opportunity to sing some of the big songs from the repertoire, tieing those performances together with some loosely clothed drama. Musicals have been constructed on this basis for years.
So don’t come to this production for strength of plot, which is thin to say the least, and involves the history and future of a group of opera singers now presenting a show in a pub.
The storylines are fairly simple – the reason a young Steph didn’t follow through on a promising start to her singing career, the same for Lionel, how Kit aspires to greater things, and cut-price diva Bella’s overbearing unpleasantness. The songs are those that most people will know from Mozart and Bizet and Verdi and Rossini, and are sung to a piano background.
The problem is that the drama is a little bit slow in developing and director Paola Cuffolo is a bit too lavish with scenes that don’t really add a lot – Steph trying on her hat, down and out Micky wandering aimlessly – and there is a sense that if the drama were just to be forgotten, this might be an enjoyable night when there might not be so much pressure on the performers.
It seemed to me that the songs were quite competently performed, sometimes a little more than competently. But this will always be what it is, four singers doing their thing in a smallish space and with a single piano as accompaniment. The clutter of the drama – a three-area set was lavish certainly and the production was costumed to the hilt – actually seemed to distance the performers from the audience, rather than bring us closer to an intimate performance.
Characters remained fairly one-dimensional too, although that could be said of many musicals down the years, so couldn’t the songs lift this well beyond the mundane? Well, yes and no. There’s a big cast involved here and figures flitted across the foreground with alarming regularity. Keeping it tighter could have allowed us some time to reflect on the nature of a performing career, on the fact that grand opera is often now, thanks only to the enthusiasm of performers like these, confined to pubs and arts centres, and finally could have elicited from us the sympathy toward the characters that somehow we never really felt.
The man next to me was returning for a second consecutive night, so it may be that I am alone in expressing these slightly negative views. And the music is quite nicely done.
Dress Rehearsal is a two-act performance, lasting about an hour and a half plus an interval.
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By Michael Spring
9th- 20th February 2016
OSO Arts Centre, London SW13 0LF