nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk) wrote,

How do the little horsey ones move again?

Late review is late.... Now over a month ago I went to see the ENO production of Chess with [personal profile] antisoppist. Although I like musicals, I'd never seen Chess before and the extent of my knowledge of the tunes until recently was singing I Know Him So Well in karaoke with my sister*, so I acquired the CD before and listened to it in the car in preparation. Contrary to the reviews in the Guardian/Observer, which I can only assume to have been done by people who fundamentally hate musicals, it was excellent. Well-staged (although they should have projected the actors in the finale for those of us at the back), well-sung, and a pleasing lack of silly accents. Or rather, only American silly accents. Perhaps Tommy Körberg found it enough to sing in English without slapping a fake Russian accent on top**, but I get annoyed at Bad Russians singing with fake accents while the Good Russians don't. It's not as if there is any evidence that Svetlana has lived a life to provide her with extensive English pronunciation lessons. But I digress.

Chess is notorious as having multiple options for arranging the songs and various possible endings, but as far as I was concerned this one worked fine - indeed, given the plots of some musicals I'd definitely put Chess in the top half. It has multiple characters, it meshes its characters and politics reasonably well, and if the end isn't entirely clear cut - well, that's life. And I spend a lot of the next week thinking about it, which is always a good sign.*** You and I works just fine as an ending if you read it as Anatoly and Florence realising that they are not in fact one another's heart's desire, they are merely the among the things that the other has seen in the course of chasing their actual desire, whatever that might be.

Musically, it was fabulous to have a large orchestra. Modern amplification means that you can do a lot with a band of fifteen or so, but it's simply not the same as a full size opera house orchestra in again. I've always liked Michael Ball's voice and had never seen him live, so that was a pleasure, and I was delighted to see again last year's Caiaphas from JCS, Phillip Browne, as Molokov. A real bass voice is a fine thing. And I was utterly and absolutely convinced by Tim Howar as Freddie when he stepped out of the aeroplane looking exactly as if he'd modelled himself as an egomaniac sporting git on Petter Northug. I was less struck by the women's voices; Alexandra Burke sang beautifully, but her vocal style didn't quite mesh with the character for me though I could see it working in other pieces or in concert, and alas Cassidy Janson as Florence displayed the regrettable tendency one sometimes hears in sopranos to sacrifice accuracy of pitch for belting. But those were minor quibbles over all.

Two final points:

(1) Each game of chess means there's one less Variation left to be played

Not necessarily. There is a high probability that it does, but of all the games of chess played throughout history it is entirely possible that two were identical.

(2) Chess is not a sport. I don't care if Iceland says that it is.

* We did this recently sans backing track or reminder of the lyrics when she visited with the young nephews as a bedtime lullaby. It is fair to say that they were sceptical of our musical genius.

** Although this Norwegian singer's version of The Soviet Machine is pretty good, even if the Arctic Philharmonic evidently has a very low budget for computer graphics.

***And the next month thoroughly earwormed. I cannot say that singing finding myself "Oh Jeremy Thorpe" to the tune of Oh Mr Porter is an improvement.

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Tags: musicals, theatre
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