A review round-up for The Moderate Soprano
David Hare’s The Moderate Soprano opens to mixed reviews at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London.
A deeply moving love story on the origins of Britain’s premiere opera festival – Glyndebourne – Olivier Award winners Roger Allam and Nancy Carroll convey pitch-perfect acting that frames operatic levels of passion, betrayal and vanity.
Few people know the extraordinary story of how an eccentric English schoolmaster bumped into three refugees from Hitler’s Germany and formed one of the world’s great opera houses. The two great passions in John Christie’s life were opera and a beautiful young soprano, Audrey Mildmay, with whom he was completely smitten.
Glyndebourne was triumphantly born amidst stiff manhattans, rolling lawns and the sound of sheep from across the HaHa. It was to become revered the world over.
Directed by Jeremy Herrin (People, Places and Things), David Hare’s play is described as ‘richly funny’ to ‘mild and flavourless’, but all agree on Roger Allam and Nancy Carroll’s wonderful performances.
The Moderate Soprano is booking until 30 June at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London
Read a round-up of reviews below.
The Guardian, ★★★★
“David Hare’s Glyndebourne play hits the high notes.”
“This is a rich, funny, touching play about the opera house and the extraordinary marriage of its co-founders, John Christie and Audrey Mildmay.”
“Hare has written an unusual play for this day and age: one that celebrates both love and a supposedly elitist art form. One of the high points of Roger Allam’s superb performance as Christie comes when he defends the practical difficulties, as well as the high costs, of getting to Glyndebourne on the grounds of the artistic enrichment offered. To some, the experience is simply “snobs on the lawn”, but when Christie says “we’re talking about the sublime” Allam’s voice vibrates with passion.”
“Nancy Carroll is every bit as impressive as Audrey. She shows the tension between her role as gracious Sussex chatelaine and understandably ambitious artist, and perfectly captures the ravaged intensity of Audrey’s final years.
Paul Jesson repeats his performance as Busch, still burned by the memory of momentarily wavering when offered Bayreuth by the Nazis. Anthony Calf brings out Ebert’s implacable aestheticism and Jacob Fortune-Lloyd evokes Bing’s Austrian charm.
Jeremy Herrin’s direction, meanwhile, does justice to an enlightening play that, like much of Hare’s work, is full of an alert romanticism.
Michael Billington, The Guardian
The Telegraph, ★★
“Mild and flavourless.
“The artistic directorship of Bayreuth in return for ridding the company of Jews – reflects the extent to which the play favours exposition over tension.”
“Allam and Nancy Carroll are first class as Christie and his wife: he full of bluster, brawn and passion; she sensible, charming and forced to accept she can expect no favouritism from the Germans.
Jeremy Herrin’s direction is elegant and fluid, while Bob Crowley’s starkly lit, beautifully composed stage designs are magnificent, like Old Masters paintings.
Hare clearly sees in Glyndebourne a symbol of a niche but enduring well-heeled Englishness and he’s absolutely right, but there’s no getting round the fact he’s written far better plays about England than this.”
Claire Allfree, The Telegraph
The Times [paywall], ★★★
“Hare’s very English story of these Glyndebourne oddballs lives up to its name.
This play captures a certain part of England to a tee, or should that be tea, as in Earl Grey and from Fortnum’s too.”
Ann Treneman, The Telegraph
Time Out, ★★★★
“Roger Allam stars in David Hare’s delightful – if potentially niche – drama about Glyndebourne founder John Christie.
Elegantly directed by Jeremy Herrin – teases it out over a leisurely, charming, well-made evening.
Hare’s play is a green and pleasant window into high-cultural life in the 1930s and beyond. It’s brought to life by pitch-perfect acting, especially from Roger Allam.
Like Glyndebourne, it’s a night that’s not exactly dripping in mass appeal. But anyone who’s interested in music, Englishness or an intelligent evening at the theatre will happily stay for the curtain call.”
Caroline McGinn, Time Out