THEATRE REVIEW: The Paradis Files at Sheffield Crucible

THIS IS opera, but not as we know it - a real story for everyone.

It is about the life of yet another woman forgotten from history, that of Maria Theresia von Paradis, an 18th century singer and teacher, known as The Blind Enchantress.

Blind from childhood, cruelly experimented on by doctors as a “cure” was sought, yet feted as a musician and composer in her lifetime. Theresia was, it seems, loved and was loved by Mozart and lusted after by a pervy Salieri.

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Created and performed by deaf and disabled artists, it’s a fantastic tale.

But what makes it even more memorable - apart from the great performances  - is that it is totally inclusive from the start.

The whole diverse cast introduce themselves - trans, “Caribbean-blessed,” partially-sighted, disabled, fat, bald or whatever - while sign language, audio description and subtitles are part and parcel of the show.

The main focus is on the turbulent relationship between Theresia and her mother Hilde, the Baroness von Paradis. Pain and sadness colour both women's lives, scarred by the loss of a baby in Theresia's case or for her mother, plagued by miscarriages, the inability to give birth to a male heir

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Soprano Bethan Langford, who is visually impaired yet playing her first blind character, shines with beautiful vocals as Theresia.

Her singing is matched by the superb voices of Maureen Brathwaite as Hilde and Ella Taylor as the maid Gerda. Omar Ebrahim, Andee-Louise Hypolite and Ben Thapa, making up the rest of the tale-telling Gossips plus other roles, offer wonderful support.

Top performers, too, were Chandrika Gopalakrishnan and Max Marchewicz as interpreters.

The score by Errollyn Wallen is rich and varied, with a team of skilled musicians kept cheerfully under control by conductor Andrea Brown. It's all immaculately directed by Jenny Sealey.

One day, all opera - or hopefully all theatre - will be pushing the boundaries of accessibility and inclusion in the same way.


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