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Tete a Tete Festival 2017 review at the Place, London – ‘an engine room for new opera’

The Woman Who Refused to Dance at the Tete a Tete Opera Fesival. Photo: Claire Shovelton

With subjects ranging from Brexit to a Mars mission, from Trump to the Berlin Wall, this year’s 10th-anniversary Tete a Tete opera festival is as adventurous as ever.

My sample evening began with Shirley J Thompson’s The Woman Who Refused to Dance, the story of a black girl who was beaten and hung from her ankle on board a British slave ship for refusing to dance on command. The girl’s plight is related in parallel by a dancer, the freely expressive Tania Dimbelolo and a singer, Nadine Benjamin, lending a sense of stoicism and dignity.

In exploring themes of personal freedom Matteo Manzitti’s Deeply proves to be strikingly contemporary and heartfelt. A married, middle-aged woman visiting her mother in hospital strikes up a relationship with a pathologist, in which their childhoods as well as their sexuality are mutually explored. The work is deftly scored for five cellos – raised on platforms and semi-covered in sheets, as if awaiting their own post-mortems. Actor Alessandra Faiello and soprano Laura Catrani produce hauntingly atmospheric performances, accompanied by ravishing cello playing, sensitively and alertly conducted by Pilar Bravo.

The final performance was the least operatic, a monologue – more a 50-minute tour de force – in which Abigail McGibbon plays out 15 episodes in the life of Catherine of Aragon. The music, featuring a small piano-based ensemble, rarely does more than underpin the drama, but does so successfully, beginning with pointillist economy but later drawing on high-class Classical-period pastiche and full-blooded Romantic sweep. The music may take a back seat, but McGibbon’s myriad shifts of mood and pacing is spellbinding.

Varied trio of productions from Britain’s best engine room for new opera

Production Information

The Woman Who Refused to Dance/ Deeply /The Moot Virginity of Catherine of Aragon
The Place
July 24, 2017
August 13, 2017
Shirley J Thompson / Matteo Manzitti / Conor Mitchell
Anastasia Belina-Johnson/ Federica Santambrogio / Matthew Cavan
Cast includes
Nadine Benjamin, Tania Dimbelolo / Alessandra Faiella, Laura Catrani / Abigail McGibbon
Running time