While Islington’s King’s Head is launching itself as London’s latest opera house, it’s fair to point out that another pub, the Rosemary Branch, a few streets closer to Shoreditch, has been doing something similar for some years now.
Their latest offering, by regular producer The Minotaur Music Theatre, was a clutch of operatic shorts, a programme that was cast in roughly symphonic form.
Like any good opening movement, the first had a degree of substantiality, with Gustav Holst’s 20-minute Savitri. The composer stated that it should be performed “in the open air or else a small building” and the Rosemary Branch certainly obliged with the latter.
Sounding like Vaughan Williams with Wagnerian overtones, the strength of the music is in the vocal lines, apt when accompanied by piano rather than the intended 12 instrument chamber band. Three strong principals (Joseph Padfield, Natasha Day and David Menezes) made the most of this hypnotic tale drawn from The Mahabharata, under Stuart Barker’s tight direction.
The scherzo followed, with Stephen Oliver’s musical joke The Waiter’s Revenge, played downstairs in the pub to the bemusement of regular drinkers. It’s a slight, wordless, unaccompanied piece of puff (the “music” consists of hums, padadas and lalas) which is fun but starts to wear thin even before its 10 minutes are up.
It was then back up to the main house for a trio of Weill songs (two of the Broadway numbers and Der Dreigroschenoper’s “Pirate Jenny”) and then another chunkier episode with Hindemith’s chromatic not-quite-palindrome Hin und Zuruck. This fascinating miniature describes a tragic domestic dispute, which is played out and then rewound to the beginning.
To stretch the symphonic image a wee bit further, the thematic material of the first movement (death reversed) was developed in this finale, as the murdered wife picks herself up and works her way back to a cheerful entrance.
Louise Lloyd and Ben Thapa played the warring couple with panache, while the piano accompaniment was played skillfully by MD Genevieve Ellis (the earlier works were performed with ample flair by Eunjung Lee).
- Simon Thomas