A forgotten female composer of 18th century Vienna at the time of Mozart and Salieri takes centre stage in The Paradis Files, first chamber opera by Graeae, the disabled-led theatre company. Though she was blind from an early age, Maria Theresia von Paradis toured Europe as composer and musician to much acclaim – she was hailed as “the Blind Enchantress” by The Times of London. Despite her disability, she determinedly continued to compose, sing, or play the piano in concerts. In her thirties she set up the first school for blind musicians in Vienna.
Her life was successful in many aspects. There’s a suggestion of a fling with Mozart, though Maria Theresia gave short shrift to Salieri for inappropriate behaviour when he was her tutor. Graeae emphasise the darker side of her life and particularly Maria Theresia’s hostility towards her mother the Baroness von Paradis, who had permitted quack doctors to perform painful experiments on her daughter as a child to try to cure her blindness.
Composer Errollyn Wallen draws on classical baroque music, including a fragment of a Piano Concerto that Mozart had composed for her. There are excursions into 20th century English music hall by the orchestra of accordion, violin, cello and percussion, conducted by music director Andrea Brown, and Jenny Sealey’s production sets a frenetic pace, slightly reminiscent of a Gerald Barry opera. The singers take on several roles apiece, forming a chorus of four “Gossips” to comment on the action and there’s added movement from the Performance Interpreters Chandrika Gopalakrishnan and Max Marchewicz who sign in British Sign Language hand gestures.
Mezzo-soprano Bethan Langford is a striking Maria Theresia and soprano Maureen Brathwaite is imposing as the guilt-ridden Baroness. Baritone Omar Ebrahim’s ebullient Baron doubles as one of the Gossips, while Ella Taylor as Maria Theresia’s maid Gerda tries to reconcile the family in conflict. Other roles are shared by Andee-Louise Hypolite and Ben Thapa.
At around 70 minutes in length, there’s just too little time to do justice to the potential of the subject and the production feels rather sketchy, though it may settle more fully during the course of the run. This highly original theatre company certainly provides food for thought, raising curiosity to learn more of the vanished composer from the hothouse of imperial Vienna.
Music — Errollyn Wallen
Director — Jenny Sealey
Musical Director and Conductor — Andrea Brown
Librettist — Nicola Werenowska
Co-Librettist and Original Idea — Selina Mills
Designer — Bernadette Roberts
Lighting Designer — Emma Chapman
Movement Director — Sonny Nwachukwu
Video Designer — Ben Glover
Casting Director — Sarah Playfair
Dramaturg — Bill Bankes-Jones
Production Photography: Patrick Baldwin.
PARADIS FILES TOUR 2022
Fri 8 – Sat 9 April (previews) Curve Leicester https://www.curveonline.co.uk
Wed 13 – Thu 14 April (World Premiere) Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, London https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk
Wed 20 – Thu 21 April The Stables, Milton Keynes https://www.stables.org
Sat 23 April Mercury Theatre, Colchester https://www.mercurytheatre.co.uk
Tue 26 April Hull Truck Theatre https://www.hulltruck.co.uk
Thu 28 & Fri 29 April Perth Theatre https://www.horsecross.co.uk
Thu 5 & Fri 6 May Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama https://www.rwcmd.ac.uk
Wed 11 & Thu 12 May Crucible Theatre, Sheffield https://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk