One of the more useless subjects I studied for 'A' level all those eons ago was Music. Useless as a credible career choice, that is, seeing as I was not destined for a Nigel Kennedy-esque life as a musician, far from it! Still I did get to have a season ticket to the English National Opera with my fellow students, and we would go up to town with Miss Hayward and soak up the culture.
It was not all Verdi and Mozart, however. There were some utter dirges; the sort of operas that if you happened to wander into the auditorium on wet evening to get out of the rain, and take whatever is on as 'typical' opera, you would never set ear to iPod ever again. We actually had to leave one early before it sent us throwing ourselves off the top of the building in despair.
In total diametrical opposition to this type of opera, I went to see King Arthur last Thursday at the Opera Berlioz in Montpellier. Not the five hours of John Dryden's play, but 2 hours of music that Purcell set to some of the scenes. They are not in anyway connected, so joining them together was quite a feat that Hervé Niquet managed with panache and hilarity. He called upon Dino and Shirley to direct events, which they did with Pythonesque expertise.
I have never enjoyed myself so much during an opera. The soldiers had metal salad bowls on their heads and had to clear the water they'd been splashing around, putting the bucket on their heads to create an echo effect. Dino was part of the show as a stage hand and could be seen moving scenery around, silently auditioning to join the choir and participating in the story as a scythe-sweeping Death.
Hervé Niquet provided dynamic and hilarious orchestral direction, even entertaining the crowds with a between-scene rendition of 'L'Auberge du Cheval blanc'. The orchestra donned woolly ski hats for the cold scene, and the audience were invoked to provide noises for the night forest scene - wind, wolves, toads, crows, owls. The atmosphere was bawdy and burlesque.
A far cry indeed from those dire wailings from a grey set with sad grey figures and a tale of tragic woe from the ENO. The audience left the packed theatre going off home with a happy smile and lightened tread.
Certainly, that production will go down as one of the more original offerings from Le Festival de Radio France et Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon!