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Tête à Tête Gives Opera A Kick Up The Aria

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Tête à Tête, who this month will present some 30 plus works in its third annual Opera Festival, is the sort of set-up that invites you to get in free if you turn up dressed as a nurse. It’s not something you see at Covent Garden (although you could always try borrowing a St John’s Ambulance uniform).

Initiatives like this set the 11 year old organisation apart. They seek to pervade opera with “a spirit of pleasure and delight,” something that one would hope is always present in the opera house but is it? The Opera Festival, based around Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios, will draw together contributions from a wide range of artists and organisations which will include Opera North, Welsh National Opera and Glyndebourne.

There are up to six performances a night of works exclusively written in the 21st Century. Brevity is the order of the day; no five hour epics here but plenty of micro-operas of 15 minutes duration.

Enlightened pricing (£6 per show and £15 for a run of three shows per night) makes it possible to sample a wide range of work. Highlights include the London premiere of The Weatherman, Opera North’s new chamber opera celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, composed by Paul Clark (The Clod Ensemble) and librettist John Binias.

The talents of siblings composer/singer/pianist Errollyn and jazz composer/trumpeter Byron Wallen explore the untold story of their extraordinary upbringing in Wallen. The festival will also see the directorial debut of ENO star mezzo Sally Burgess with Ula, a work in progress showing of a haunting new opera-thriller that makes connections between a remote Scottish Village and the film world of New York (music by Mark Glentworth and words by Carolyn Herail).

Lite Bites is a key part of the festival, the commissioning of micro operas of just 5 minutes in length that are performed in public spaces across the borough including Lyric Square, Ravenscourt Park, Bishop’s Park and Fulham Palace.

So, does the emphasis on brevity merely reflect the short attention spans of the MTV generation? With Sir Harrison Birtwistle recently moving from the full-length magnificence of last year’s The Minotaur to a short, sharp chamber opera with The Corridor, and declaring that this is the sort of work he’s now most interested in, perhaps not.

Whether The Opera Festival unearths a Birtwistle remains to be seen but the chances are it’s all going to be a lot more fun. It runs from 30 July to 16 August. Take a break from the Proms and pop along the road to Hammersmith for an evening of light-hearted experimentation and maybe a drink or two.

Full details of the programme at www.tete-a-tete.org.uk and further background information at Opera and Music Theatre Forum (www.omtf.org.uk)

- Simon Thomas


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