GALA and THE SECRET DIARY OF NORA PLAIN at Oude Luxor, Rotterdam

Tuesday night was Gala night in the Deco splendour of the Oude Luxor Theatre. After a brief introduction by the Festival’s Guy Coolen, the city’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, gave a short but informative and entertaining speech. He expounded that sleeves-rolled-up, dirty-handed Rotterdam was possibly not the most obvious environment in which to launch and nurture Operadagen and the poetry festival from whence it developed. But, he was proud to repeat, Rotterdam is a brand new city, a monument to renaissance, progress and innovation so, even for a city with no opera house, where better to hold a festival of contemporary and innovative opera-based events?

We were then put in the very different hands of famous Dutch entertainer Sven Ratzke who was to MC the soirée. For those of you who don’t know him he could, I imagine, be described as a drag act without the frock and wig. He got the ball rolling with a couple of songs from the Brecht/Weil musical Happy End and then it was straight into the evening’s raison d’être, the second annual Operadagen Gala Awards.

The six recipients came from around the world and each act was, in its own way, unique. First up wasTurkish actress and singer Meral Polat, a vocalist of extreme power and presence. She was accompanied by an unlikely single trombone – but a trombone that was played through a series of effects pedals and sounded like no other trombone I have ever heard. Sitting on two simple chairs the duo mesmerized the audience and this for me was one of the high points of the show.

The other was Wende, a versatile and forceful Dutch performer of many hats. Surprisingly, Wende Snijders was born in Beckenham in London, surprising because her persona, and indeed her performance last night, was the epitome of a “European” entertainer. I understand that as a musician she is impossible to pigeon-hole but last night her act, singing Jacque Brel’s Au Suivant in French, was brilliant, and gave the Belgian master a run for his money.

The other award winners, who either did a turn and/or made an acceptance speech were Swiss director Thom Luz, Lisa Verbelen who did some remarkable things with vocal harmonies, the Rosa Ensemble and a very camp Ariah Lester from Venezuela who had a amazing voice, a black corset and silver platform shoes that would have induced vertigo had he dared to look down.

The entertainment was rounded off by our exuberant host singing, or rather sending-up, Lou Reed’s Perfect Day for which he was joined by the Festival’s very busy ambassador Claron McFadden with whom he will be appearing in Groschenblues later in the Festival.

Gala also marked the start of Opera Europa, the international opera symposium initiated by Operadagen.

But the evening was by no means over. We were all ushered out of the auditorium while the stage was prepared for The Secret Diary of Nora Plain.

Performed by the Ragazze Quartet, augmented by Remco Menting on percussion and occasional synth, this was a song cycle inspired by Schubert but even more so by Elvis Costello’s masterpiece, The Juliet Letters. Nora Plain described the relationship between privacy, paranoia and the erotic.

I am a sucker for string quartets and for me they can do no wrong, whatever they play. This all-lady quartet in their tight-trousered grey suits and shiny shoes played the original music by Morris Kliphius faultlessly in a variety of styles and were always perfect. I saw them recently in The Hague’s Rewire festival playing Laurie Anderson’s Sol and I now count myself as a genuine and definite fan.

The songs, with text by Lucky Fonz III and performed by Nora Fischer, were equally diverse ranging from lyrical melodic to There’s a Rat in My Room which was pure Punk. Wearing a simple (plain) dress, she sang, or rather performed, from a raised, circular under-lit platform surrounded by the quartet with the array of gleaming percussion instruments behind, sometimes into a microphone, sometimes without.

The whole piece, which was jointly conceived by all the participants, was nicely staged under the direction of Titus Tiel Groenestege with ever-changing lighting by Maarten Warmerdam to enhance the mood.

So, all-in-all a rich, varied and very entertaining two-course evening in the stylish surroundings of a beautiful theatre.    Michael Hasted   23rd May 2018

Photo Nichon Glerum

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