Tuesday, 10 September 2019

A considerable company achievement: David Blake's Scoring a Century from British Youth Opera

David Blake: Scoring a Century - British Youth Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
David Blake: Scoring a Century - British Youth Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
David Blake Scoring a Century; Hugo Herman-Wilson, Holly Marie Bingham, Florian Panzieri, dir: Keith Warner, cond: Lionel Friend; British Youth Opera at the Peacock Theatre
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 6 September 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
David Blake's operatic entertainment disappoints but receives a fine performance

David Blake: Scoring a Century - British Youth Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
David Blake: Scoring a Century
British Youth Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
This must have sounded like a dream when it was first mooted. Lionel Friend and Keith Warner collaborating on a work originally conceived as part of the millennium celebrations. With a libretto by Keith Warner and composed by David Blake Scoring a Century has been described as 'low entertainment for highbrows, or vice versa'. Originally intended to debut at Portland Opera, Oregon, the 9/11 attacks caused a creative hiatus - a collective drawing in of horns that scuppered its premiere.

The work tells the history of Mr and Mrs Jedermann, a couple of song and dance merchants. There is dialogue – lots, and songs, and from time to time the action is interrupted by mini-operas which contain the serious heart of the show. More musical comedy than opera it reviews the twentieth century in twenty ‘Panels’. Our pair of Everymen, the Jedermann’s stumble through the politics and social change of the last one hundred years, never ageing and only reluctantly adapting to the times. Their sole aim is to provide some songs and snatches, to raise a laugh or provoke a tear.

On March 4, 2010 the opera received its World Premiere at the Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, by students from Birmingham Conservatoire, directed by Warner and conducted by Lionel Friend.
On 31 August, 4 and 6 September British Youth Opera revived David Blake and Keith Warner's Scoring a Century again at the Peacock Theatre. Mr. and Mrs. Jedermann, the ageless fulcra of the piece, were played by Hugo Herman-Wilson and Holly Marie Bingham with their wingman and composer Bertold played by Florian Panzieri. Lionel Friend was once more in the pit.

Nothing was certain on this long ride to nowhere. Ideas were launched like indiscriminate missiles. Nothing escaped criticism, including critics, in the hope that some of its diffuse dissections might stick; but it was so saturated with pastiche, allusions, agonising jokes, nihilistic pronouncements and other accretions that it became nebulous - a soggy mess. By the time we reached Panel 17 you could have sucked my brains out with a straw. ‘What’s the point of it all?’ they asked – as well they might.

David Blake: Scoring a Century - British Youth Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
David Blake: Scoring a Century - British Youth Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
In its role as the country’s foremost training opera company British Youth Opera is all about providing the very best professional development through its annual programme of workshops and fully staged operas. It’s that first-hand experience that lays the building blocks for a professional career. Like being in Rep - you have to do everything you are given no matter. So, from that perspective it has to be said Scoring a Century with its 20 odd performers in more than 50 parts has some obvious attractions for preparing performers for the gargantuan leap into professional life. It’s difficult to fault that logic when what they delivered was so professional, however antithetical that may seem.

Adroitly conducted by Lionel Friend it was economically directed and designed. There were some fantastically dynamic set pieces and real pathos. No shortage either of skill or brio from the large ensemble. Shifting easily between musical styles they also impressed by their ability to deliver dialogue convincingly however contrived and landing jokes however hackneyed.

It seems invidious to single anyone out, but the agile talents of Hugo Herman-Wilson as the eternally optimistic and libidinous Jedermann, and Holly Marie Bingham as the rather more stoical and pragmatic wife led us tirelessly through their topsy-turvy world. Joanna Harries as the pert and flirtatious Tartine, delivered a rather uncomfortable slice of reality into the proceedings. Florian Panzieri was delicious as Bertold the temporiser, their friend and composer whose compositions revealed the ugly underbelly of the times. Guy Elliott made his presence felt too with roles as diverse as Woodrow Wilson, Village Idiot and Nazi Officer. From a performance perspective this was a considerable company achievement and a genuine pleasure, pity there was just ‘so much to remember to forget’.

Scoring a Century
British Youth Opera
Peacock Theatre
Friday 6 September 2019
Mrs. Jedermann : Holly Marie Bingham
Mr. Jedermann : Hugo Herman-Wilson
Bertold : Florian Panzieri
Director : Keith Warner
Designer : Basia Bińkowska
Costume Designer : Jasmine Swan
Lighting Designer : John Bishop
Conductor : Lionel Friend
Southbank Sinfonia

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