Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Baroness Tamara von Stein is getting desperate. Desperate to get through the audition process and secure a foothold in the world of opera. Desperate to be a diva. But is her life just like the typical opera plot, destined to end in failure and/or tragedy?
To sing on stage is the one life that Baroness Tamara von Stein zu Leitershofen (aka Tamara Stein) seeks. The glittering glory of life as an opera diva feels so tantalisingly close to her and yet is somehow thwarted each time it moves within grasping distance. Damn those idiots running auditions who just can’t understand that the Baroness is a diva in waiting, just existing to hit those high notes. So she’s reduced to hunting for a job, any job, to make ends meet whilst she also seeks love and the man of her dreams to complete her life.
Welcome to the opera diva’s boudoir as Stein weaves a labyrinthine tale typical of the opera world – girl wants to meet boy (or vice versa), tries various ways of attracting his attention, finally wins it only to be horribly let down in love with a denouement of your choice to finish up with, ranging from triumph to lingering death and all points in between.
Except this is no ordinary tale, opera or even show. For a start it’s the antithesis of pretty much all opera in that it’s funny to the point of being laugh out loud in the way its structured and narrated. It’s also a real “one woman show” in that Stein is performer, director, stage manager, lighting and sound engineer. Oh, and she wrote the thing as well, except the opera arias of course. Various other similarly gifted musicians from the past three hundred years did that for her.
What you’ve got here is opera arias from the well known to the (frankly) relatively obscure, each sung in its original language with the storyline seamlessly interwoven around the music. The show in its original form (as seen in London) runs for over two hours yet the editing required to fit the “fringe formula” of shows running for around half that time has been perfectly crafted, keeping the storyline clear whilst permitting Stein to showcase her extraordinary talents as a singer, actor and storyteller.
An average sized Sainsbury’s bag sits in all its glory centre stage near a simple set of table and stool. It must be one of these bottomless bags, given that Stein dips into it so often, revealing a dizzying array of glittering props and clothes which are then pressed into service as part of the performance. Not many opera divas choose to make their costume changes on stage but Stein deploys this trick to great effect on several occasions yet never misses a note in the process, ensuring the almost magical spell she weaves over her audience never breaks.
Looking at the show’s flyer, I couldn’t understand how or even why it would work. Opera? One woman? No orchestra? No proscenium arch for the diva?
But, oh boy, this is a show that works! First up, Stein is a consummate actor, inhabiting her Baroness role with conviction, passion and energy. She moves with the grace of a dancer, facial expressions convey every conceivable emotion and she knows how to work an audience. Second, she can sing and I mean, really sing! Vocal control is superb aided, no doubt, by that perfect control over their breathing that all top opera singers seem to have. The emotional control in her voice was exquisite too, ranging from seductress to scorned lover and quite a few others in between.
Most importantly, though, you don’t need to know anything about or even like opera in order to enjoy this fresh and inventive piece of solo theatre. It’s suitable for children, adults and families as the silly storyline alone will keep you hooked. And Stein’s delivery of each aria is so wonderfully engaging that it matters not a jot if she sings in her native German, French, Italian, Swedish or, just occasionally, English. Most opera singers sing “at” their audience, creating a barrier twixt them and their listener. Stein sings “to” her audience, inviting you to share her obvious joy of and talent for performing.
This is an exquisite piece of theatre and I can’t think of a better way to discover what opera is all about. Stein has brought something that’s genuinely fresh and original to this year’s Fringe. Just go and see it. Highly recommended.