It appears that much of what we know about Glyndebourne can be classified as urban legend, but David Hare’s The Moderate Soprano allows us a glimpse in to the real story of the eccentric, Fortnum’s tea drinking, man who built an Opera House in his back garden. Or rather a closer look at his younger wife (the soprano) and the multinational cast of characters who helped build a British institution.
The production was such a success at The Hampstead Theatre that a West End transfer seemed inevitable, and now it’s here, I felt a sense of wasted opportunity.
Drifting between the last days in the lives of John Christie and Audrey Mildmay, and the heady pre-war days when Glyndebourne was in its infancy, David Hare’s gentle play, directed by Jeremy Herrin, looks at the series of events that brought the Opera House in to existence. Christie didn’t seem to realise the full horrors posed by Nazi Germany, but took advantage of the situation to secure some talented refugees to realise his artistic dream.
The minor conflicts between the owner and incoming creatives give the production some kind of teeth, because realistically there’s not a lot happens. There’s nothing essentially wrong with the play, in fact it has a cosy Sunday night drama type feel, but if you like your theatre a little more challenging or ground-breaking you will be disappointed.
Glyndebourne fanatics may also be a little disappointed to learn there is no actual opera, just plenty of references to the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas that opened the first few seasons of Glyndebourne, much to the chagrin of Captain Christie.
Some direct to audience monologues hide the set changes, which go on to reveal Bob Crowley’s beautiful design. There is no faulting the cast either, Roger Allam is perfect as the former Eton school master, with the inherited estate his new personal playground. He manages to strike the balance between eccentricity and sensibility perfectly. Nancy Carrol gives a wondrous performance as Audrey, in particular with the scenes where her health is fading.
The Moderate Soprano ticks along at a strolling pace, it feels warm and homely, if a touch devoid of risk, and will most definitely appeal to a certain type of audience. This is a strictly Earl Grey production, when the West end is crying out for a more challenging blend.