J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, May 03, 2013

1st Night: Opera Singers Acting Naughty


The cultural elite sure can get randy.  Some of England’s greatest opera stars have come to perform in a high paying vanity production of Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte, but the real action happens after rehearsals in Christopher Menaul’s 1st Night (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

The fabulously wealthy Adam plans to show his shallow social circle he can truly sing opera with a special command performance at his country estate.  Secretly though, he really intends to use the production as a means of wooing Celia, a conductor he has long carried a torch for.  Naturally, through a contrived misunderstanding, he concludes she is not as available as he hoped.  In a sour mood, he makes a caddish bet with the social climbing tenor Tom regarding the soprano, Nicoletta. Of course, when the leads start falling for each other, the bet hangs over their romance like Damocles sword. 

Meanwhile, fellow diva Tamsin is having dysfunctional issues with her husband, the director, while Debbie, a budding star, goes all D.H. Lawrence, toying with the earnest young groundskeeper’s affections.  There will be assignations in the forest and all kinds comedy of errors, but don’t worry, the show will go on.

After Luciano Pavarotti’s notorious Yes, Giorgio, it took almost thirty years for someone to cast another opera singer in a musical comedy.  Some purists might say Sarah is too crossover-pop, but it seems strange regardless to watch her in a largely non-singing part.  Still, she is reasonably spirited scolding and flirting with Richard E. Grant’s Adam. Grant basically falls back on his standard British Fraser Crane tool kit, but there is a reason that persona has worked so well for him.

Poor Emma Williams endures numerous embarrassments as Tamsin, while Oliver Dimsdale fares little better as her predictably problematic husband.  For their part, Mia Maestro and Julien Ovenden look distinctly uncomfortable trying to pull off Nicoletta and Tom’s Moonlighting style courtship.  At least, Susannah Fielding adds some decorative value as Debbie and Nigel Lindsay exudes likability as the gay featured tenor Martin, which is frankly what 1st Night most aspires to.

1st Night (formerly First Night) is not terribly ambitious, largely content to parade some lovely scenery and an attractive cast past viewers.  Of course, the music is great too, even if the singing is conspicuously dubbed.  In a way, it is a lot like Quartet, except its characters are all hale and hearty (which precludes any cheap heart-string tugging).  A distracting trifle, 1st Night opens today (5/3) in New York at the Quad Cinema and is also available of VOD platforms.

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