Vivienne - opera review

I went to see 'Vivienne' as part of the Tête à Tête Opera festival at the Riverside theatre, Hammersmith. This was my first live experience of opera and it was very accessible, sung in English by mezzo-soprano Clare McCaldin, with Libby Burgess accompanying on piano.

Vivienne Haigh-Wood was the wife of T.S. Eliot and she appears on stage (played by Clare McCaldin) in a white nightie, presumably situated in the lunatic asylum to which she had been confined by her brother.

The six songs composed for 'Vivienne' by Stephen McNeff with libretto by Andy Rashleigh were based on T.S. Eliot's verse and they incorporate music hall and rhyming couplets which really varies the style of the performance.

I had hoped, when watching this ‘one woman’ show that I would find out more about Vivienne Haigh-Wood as an individual, but I felt there was too much about T.S. Eliot (his talent and womanising) and not enough about Vivienne’s life before she met him, what her hopes or dreams had been for the future and not enough about her own writing (aside from her input to her husband’s poems). Although this makes it evident that her life revolved around her husband's...and his exclusion of her.

As the show is only forty minutes long I would welcome an extra seven minutes for another song!

The set consists of two white chairs on a white square floor with a ‘dressing up box’ of props near the back of the stage. Clare McCaldin as Vivienne utilises tarot cards, does this reflect an assumption that there is a connection between the supernatural and madness or was this symbolism from ‘The Waste Land’?

Directed by Joe Austin the show has great pace and energy and Vivienne comes most to life when she wears (not all at the same time) her hat, brown fur coat, shoes, red coat and black gloves. Here is a lady outside our world, with one shoed foot or gloved hand in the world and underneath, vulnerable, excluded wearing her nightie.

What I really like about ‘Vivienne’ is that McCaldin Arts have given her a voice, someone locked away from society and considered harmful (to either society and/or herself) and a beautiful, powerful one at that (Clare McCaldin).

Try to see this opera.

© Wendy Thomson 2013
Reviewed 09.08.13 at Riverside Studios

Performances of Vivienne:
8th – 9th August at the Tête à Tête Opera Festival.
20th – 21st August at The Forge, Camden (as part of Camden Fringe).
17th October at the October Gallery (Bloomsbury Festival).
25 November in the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House.

Photo (c) Claire Shovelton

Author's review: