Constella’s Connecting Stars Christmas Gala

Care home residents have been particularly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, both in terms of cases and from their isolation from loved ones and society in general. Constella is an Opera-Ballet company and decided that it could do something to help. So, it has put together an online show in two parts to be shown in care homes all over the country. The Christmas Gala is a collection of ballet, opera, and instrumental performances of their own new works (for example ‘The Bearded Lady’), and well-known pieces of classical music, some of which are adapted to their own style of ‘Opera-Ballet’ performance.

My Grandad lives in a care home for those suffering from Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, so I tried to view this from his point of view. Would he enjoy it? Would his carers enjoy it? The power of music, in particular, to break through the barriers that these illnesses put up is becoming increasingly well known, and my Grandad has always enjoyed music. He has an amazing voice, and until he moved to his home, he sang in several choirs, the last one being specifically a dementia choir.

The quality of all the performances and music is great and the musicality is exceptional. I loved the music and believe that those in care homes will also enjoy it as it is very beautiful to listen to. The performance is well-edited and the production is of very high quality, using professional cameras and lighting. They have brought in some star performers from West End shows and ballets to take part, which really makes it feel special. My favourite parts are from West Side Story (‘Maria’ is such a great song!) and the Nutcracker at the end of the performance. I love this ballet. The story and the music are really wonderful, and it is absolutely associated with Christmas, so it can bring back all those seasonal memories for the audience.

But with all the positives that come with the performance, there are a few negatives.

First of all, is the issue of diversity. All of the performers are white. It’s hard for small companies to recruit artists from all communities to fulfil their specific requirements, but I feel that in this day and age some effort should be made, otherwise the company runs the risk of alienating parts of the community for whom its performances are intended.

Overall, I feel that the production is rather serious and stark, and lacking in the Christmas atmosphere. The set is plain and uninteresting; just bare white walls and some vertical lighting, which make it feel very clinical. Of course, it’s really hard to stage things in a pandemic, but, some effort to make the environment look and feel more homely and Christmassy would really have made the whole performance come alive. Perhaps some sort of backdrop, and/or inventive lighting could have been used to create a more festive feel.

In terms of the filming, I would have liked more variety of camera shot. It is all very static, and again, adds to the possibility of a lack of engagement with the audience. Performers moving from live performance to online or filmed genres really need to take this into consideration. You can’t just do things as you would if you were in the concert hall, where the buzz of live performance and a live audience creates its own atmosphere.  You have to work hard to create an immersive ambience, and filming techniques, set and lighting all work towards this.

But my main complaint is that although the music is lovely and beautifully performed, and I’m glad it’s different from the usual banal, and potentially patronising, Christmas fare, I feel there should be more variety in the styles of music. This production is obviously aimed at older people in care homes but fails to take into account the eclectic tastes of those older people for diverse musical genres, including jazz, rock’n’roll musical classics, and even rock and pop. Unlike the audience in a conventional concert venue classical music concert, or theatre musical production, they have not chosen this performance for themselves; it has been chosen for them. Consequently, the programmers need to take account of the diversity of taste and build that into their programming.

It also feels a little disconnected, with unrelated pieces of music and performances, which, lacking the atmosphere of a live performance, might, over the course of an hour, be too much to endure. A little narrative connecting the pieces, or giving things a theme, would have made it much more engaging.

This is really my biggest issue with the performance as a whole. I wonder if the intended audience has really been considered. There’s certainly nothing here to sing along to, and combined with the lack of ambience, the lack of interest in the camera view and set, it is all really quite serious, not terribly Christmassy, and not really much fun!

So, whilst this production is all of high quality, with great artistry, it isn’t really a Christmas Gala.