The Moderate Soprano

Theatre, Off-West End Duke of York’s Theatre , Covent Garden Thursday April 5 2018 - Saturday June 30 2018
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 (© Manuel Harlan)
1/5
© Manuel Harlan

Nancy Carroll (Audrey Mildmay) and Roger Allam (John Christie).

 (© Manuel Harlan)
2/5
© Manuel Harlan

Roger Allam (John Christie), Nancy Carroll (Audrey Mildmay), Nick Sampson (Professor Carl Ebert) , Paul Jesson (Dr Fritz Busch).

 (© Manuel Harlan)
3/5
© Manuel Harlan

Nancy Carroll (Audrey Mildmay) and Roger Allam (John Christie).

 (© Manuel Harlan)
4/5
© Manuel Harlan
 (© Manuel Harlan)
5/5
© Manuel Harlan

This staid Glyndebourne drama from David Hare doesn't quite hit the high notes.

This review is from October 2015, when 'The Moderate Soprano' opened at Hampstead Theatre. It transfers to Duke of York's Theatre in April 2017, with a new design by Bob Crowley.

Each year, when summer hits, the Glyndebourne Estate opens its gates for another opera festival, another chance for people to don the black tie, pack a picnic and watch some high quality opera in the pastoral setting of the Sussex Downs. 

David Hare’s new play follows the life of Glyndebourne’s founder, John Christie, as he enlists the help of some musical Germans who’ve fled the Nazi regime and pulls off his pipe dream. 

Christie’s played by the excellent Roger Allam (‘The Thick of It’, ’Endeavour’) with high-waisted trousers hoisted up to his tits and the flaps of his bald cap coming slightly unstuck at the sides, both offering a constant distraction. 

But Allam’s performance is wonderful: he makes Christie childishly consumed with optimism for his endeavour, naive to the rising Nazi regime. When he gets into his stride, arguing passionately for opera as the greatest and most sublime of all art forms, Allam hits all the right notes.

Still, it takes far too long for the play to be any good. It trundles for over an hour, then all of a sudden, in high pomposity, Allam goes off on one about Mozart and the play clicks. His character finds its flesh, the play a purpose.

Before that point there’s no drama and barely any movement, just posh men chatting in pretty chairs. Director Jeremy Herrin has made this a static state of affairs.

Rae Smith’s design leaves half the stage exposed, with faded pastel backdrops doubling as both the scenery for the play and the sets for the lavish operas at Glyndebourne. They’re symbols of opera’s declining popularity and its dying audiences.

Opera’s greatest hits are name-dropped frequently, providing plenty of chuckles for the musical cognoscenti. But Hare’s play is too much setup for too little payoff. It’s an orchestra tuning up, finding their key, preparing. Then, as suddenly as those strident opening notes resound, the piece is over. 

By: Tim Bano

Posted:

Venue name: Duke of York’s Theatre
Contact:
Address: St Martin's Lane
London
WC2N 4BG
Transport: Tube: Leicester Square
Price: £18-£28, £15 concs. Under 30s £10 for any performance.
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    • Duke of York’s Theatre £18-£28, £15 concs. Under 30s £10 for any performance.
    • Duke of York’s Theatre £18-£28, £15 concs. Under 30s £10 for any performance.
    • Duke of York’s Theatre £18-£28, £15 concs. Under 30s £10 for any performance.
    • Duke of York’s Theatre £18-£28, £15 concs. Under 30s £10 for any performance.
    • Duke of York’s Theatre £18-£28, £15 concs. Under 30s £10 for any performance.
    • Duke of York’s Theatre £18-£28, £15 concs. Under 30s £10 for any performance.
    • Duke of York’s Theatre £18-£28, £15 concs. Under 30s £10 for any performance.
    • Duke of York’s Theatre £18-£28, £15 concs. Under 30s £10 for any performance.
    • Duke of York’s Theatre £18-£28, £15 concs. Under 30s £10 for any performance.
    • Duke of York’s Theatre £18-£28, £15 concs. Under 30s £10 for any performance.
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tastemaker

A play about the founding of the Gyndebourne Opera House doesn't sound thrilling. However It is really a piece about English eccentricity, David Hare has written a very witty and enjoyable play,The cast work well together and Roger Allam is terrific (as usual).