Orango hated communists. Part man, part ape, he was the product of a French biologist’s experiments in inseminating monkeys with human sperm. The human overcame the animal in him and in the early 20th century he rose to become a star journalist and media mogul, using his power to attack the fledgling Soviet Union. But the more he ranted about the evils of the working class and communism, the more ape-like he became, both physically and psychologically, descending into violence and finally madness. By this point a world cataclysm had brought down the bourgeois order, and Orango was sold to a Soviet circus: shown off at Red Square parades as the ape who could blow his nose like a human being. This is where Shostakovich’s opéra bouffe Orango opens. Indeed it is the only scene we have.
Not as dramatic as a production of King Lear in which the actor actually goes mad, but a nice instance of life taking over from art, or vice versa, when the Lithuanian tenor Edgaras Montvidas took over from John Tessier at the last minute in Jonathan Miller’s beguiling production of The Elixir of Love at the Coliseum last week. (The understudy was also unavailable.) Montvidas knows the part of the forlorn Nemorino in Italian: his rival, the bumptious sergeant Belcore, the object of his desire, Adina, and everyone else was singing in English. Poor Nemorino, sitting alone in his corner, as the entire neighbourhood bounced and swayed around him, had every reason to feel misunderstood. He didn’t even speak the same language as his inamorata.