Review: The Moderate Soprano, Hampstead Theatre

“The people of Tunbridge Wells seemed strangely indifferent to Parsifal”

Urgh. The presence of national treasures Nancy Carroll and Roger Allam meant that there was never any doubt about booking a ticket for The Moderate Soprano at the Hampstead Theatre. But sequestered in the salubrious surroundings of Swiss Cottage, David Hare’s tale of the life of John Christie – the founder of the Glyndebourne opera festival – has the feel of ultimate #firstworldproblems with zero theatrical imperative behind it, unless of course you’re the ones dropping £200 plus for tickets there.

The very fact that Glyndebourne were involved in the commissioning of the play tells you what level we’re operating on, a self-congratulatory tome of rose-tinted biography and operatic in-jokes but even that makes it sound more interesting than it actually is. Jeremy Herrin’s production is extraordinarily, fatally, lacking in anything resembling drama for a large proportion of its running time, its staid storytelling quickening no pulses, its static staging troubling no snoozers.

Allam’s innate skill means he’s rarely less than watchable as a man struggling to bring his passion project to fruition but Carroll is severely under-used, even as the only woman in the cast, as his wife, their late-blooming (for him) love an interesting mis-match of a marriage. But the arguments for opera as the highest art form are purely designed to preach to the converted, the discussion about high prices strangely proud of its challenges to accessibility. 

The Moderate Soprano does finally get there in the end with a strong final movement but it is far too little too late – Hare and Glyndebourne’s inwards-looking celebration of itself may please its devotees but I can’t imagine it will win it any new fans. 

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 28th November

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