UCOpera: Sex, Babies and Baroque’n’roll

Acante et Cephise wows at The Bloomsbury.

| UPDATED Acante buzz Cephise et Malcolm Grant music Opera Society ucl UCOpera

Why Opera? How can a 300 year old, 3 hour long baroque fairy-tale have any relevance to the student body of 2012? And I mean, Rameau who? As a self-professed classical music aficionado, I had no doubt that this production was going to be musically, visually and vocally spectacular. The UCOpera is, afterall, renowned for its talented singers and quasi-professional orchestra. But director Christopher Cowell throws more than one surprise at the unsuspecting Bloomsbury audience in what can only be described as UCL’s triumphant adaption of Acante et Cephise.

Sex, love, sex, obsession, sex, betrayal, sex, flying babies. This pretty much sums up the plot. The love story between the why-can’t-I-find-a-man-like-him Acante and damsel in distress extraordinaire Cephise is captivating, with both leads simulating passionate affection utterly convincingly. Add to the mix a black-feathered evil genie that seemed to take fashion advice from the front man of KISS and a fairy-godmother with a fetish for hot pink, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a show. And don’t forget the chorus of men and women in white coats; i.e. the mischievous, menacing ‘minions’. The set, colour scheme and costumes were kept very simple with white and pink dominating throughout the show. The result could not have been more effective as it kept the production looking clear, professional and most importantly, romantic.

The vocal talents were not just carried off by the protagonists (although Cephise undoubtedly stole the show). The UCL secondary soloists carried melodies and harmonies with complete charm and confidence. Andy Doll especially impressed as he never let his skilful womanising interfere with his seamless vocalising. But where this opera really shone was through its incorporation of dance, modernity and somewhat unexpected scenes of contemporary life which gradually became more and more integrated into the main plot.

When a couple of dancers dressed in gym gear appeared on stage, the audience seemed slightly confused and probably assumed they were lost first years on their way to the Bloomsbury Fitness Centre. However, their relevance and involvement in the production became ever more clear as they strikingly used dance to convey humour, romance, happiness and disappointment. Camilla Turner had the audience enthralled with her vivacious, flamboyant character as she gave easily the best dance performance of the night.

And then things got raunchy. Rampant sex in the underworld set the premise for all sorts of kinky activity. A seemingly innocent montage with the minions mimicking the statue of the Three Graces soon turned into an interactive display of choice positions from the Karma Sutra. The apt caption of ‘Things are going to get graphic’ had the audience laughing…nervously. Quite rightly, too.  But these risqué escapades served to heighten the excitement and passion which are so integral to this production, and obviously were included to appeal to the student demographic. And obviously, it worked.

As the plot developed, I began to understand why this piece was the perfect choice for the UCOpera. Not only is UCL providing the world with one of the first stage performances of Acante et Cephise since the 18th Century, but it expands on this universal idea of love. Themes such as trust, lust, abandonment, desire and hope were as important to Rameau as they are to us now; I mean you can witness all these things first hand at Moonies on a Monday night. The subtle comic gestures running throughout the performance gave it character and vibrancy, and Charles Peebles made sure the orchestra reached his exacting standards as they flawlessly supported the chorus and drove the production forward.

The general reaction to Acante et Cephise has been overwhelmingly positive, which was apparent from the rapturous applause at the curtain call. But what did the man himself, UCL Provost Malcolm Grant, have to say to The Buzz about the production? “I loved it…I wasn’t sure where it was going to go when it started off. It starts quite slowly. But yes by the end it was wonderful, the finale was fantastic. It sort of picked up as it went along…it sort of snowballed…I thoroughly enjoyed it.” 


So confidence or no confidence, believe this man when he says Acante et Cephise is an incredible showcase of UCL talent, a captivating performance and therefore well worth going to see.


23rd & 24th March 2012 


The Bloomsbury Theatre


otherwise, £25 or £17 for concessions