A Most Murderous Musical Mystery!

A hugely entertaining and enjoyable night is in store with this new, funny, feel good show, which combines music, great singing, comedy and mystery. Critics through the ages have often murdered a diva's performance through the power of a pen, but now it's time for the divas to get their revenge!... or is it justice? Join the Welsh Clouseau - Detective Inspector Gethin Gumshoe as he delves into the operatic underworld to find out WHODUNIT!

Written and directed by Chris Harris (a comic performer of genius), A Knife At The Opera gently pokes fun at critics, performers, detectives and anyone else who takes themselves too seriously, including the show's principal performer, the critically acclaimed virtuosic mezzo soprano and actress Buddug Verona James.

The roles of detective and divas (six prime suspects - Miss Macho, Miss Bagwitch, Miss Baroque, Miss Acrobatics, Miss Diva and Miss Dot Demisemiquaver) are all played by Buddug Verona James, accompanied on the piano by Andrew Wilson-Dickson. The comic story is intertwined with seven arias by Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Bizet, Tom Johnson and Andrew Wilson-Dickson.

Buddug's cut it as Orfeo in Canada (for Canada's Opera Atelier), Lady Capulet in Wales (for Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru) and was top butcher at the Royal Welsh Show 1978, so beware that knife! www.buddug.co.uk

The production is suitable for middle-scale, small-scale and community venues and is supported by a Marketing Pack, flyers and posters. First performance at Theatr Mwldan on 9 February, and generally available for touring immediately afterwards. Audience Promo DVD and Promoter's Promo DVD available on request.

The Suspects:

"The modern opera singer has to perform over 400 years of repertoire in a wide variety of musical styles and languages. Ideally this leads to an admirable versatility. In practice, however, many singers stick to what they're best at and specialise in a specific area of the repertoire. This phenomenon has been the inspiration for the singers presented to you this evening."

Miss Macho - an opera singer who plays "travesty" roles (a female dressed in men's clothing who performs the male roles). Some of these would have been written for a castrato but since the barbaric practice of castrating young boys was outlawed; these roles have been taken by either counter-tenors or women.

Miss Bagwitch - a seasoned opera singer who plays the less glamorous, supporting roles (mother, witch, hag, aunt, nanny) - in theatre terms a character actress.

Miss Baroque - an opera singer who specialises in Baroque music (1600-1750). The qualities most valued in the Baroque voice are agility, purity and clarity, even at the expense of power as most Baroque music would have been written and performed for smaller audiences than we have today.

Miss Acrobatics - an opera singer who specialises in coloratura (the decoration of a written melody in the shape of runs, roulades and cadenzas) - her voice is very agile. Rossini's operas were written to showcase the virtuosity of the greatest singers of his day.

Miss Diva – a celebrated opera singer who will only play the lead because she has a fabulous voice and can choose her roles. Typical roles - Carmen, Delilah in Samson and Delilah. Buddug's favourite Divas - Maria Callas, Agnes Baltsa, Tatyana Troyanos, Teresa Berganza.

Miss Dot Demisemiquaver - an intellectual opera singer who reads music very well, and is notable for her disciplined approach both to her music and to her colleagues. As most singers aren't very good at counting she has found her niche.

Cartoons by Noel Ford


Miss Macho BRAMO DI TRIONFAR from Alcina by Handel (1685-1759)

Miss Bagwitch MARITO VORREI from La Finta Semplice by Mozart (1756-1791) English translation Adam Pollock

Miss Baroque PIANGER from Giulio Cesare by Handel (1685-1759)

Miss Acrobatics UNA VOCE POCO FA from Il Barbiere di Siviglia by Rossini (1792-1868)

Miss Diva CHANSON BOHME from Carmen by Bizet (1838-1875)

Miss Dot Demisemiquaver THE UNACCOMPANIED ARIA from The Four Note Opera by Tom Johnson (1939)

DI Gethin Gumshoe - Dove Sono by Andrew Wilson-Dickson (1946)


Andrew Wilson - Dickson is a musical polymath: as a composer he has had his music, from chamber music to operas, commissioned and broadcast by the BBC and supported by the Arts Council and other foundations. As a keyboard player he gives piano and organ recitals, plays chamber music with a number of groups and is a respected continuo harpsichordist. After 20 years teaching at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama he was recently awarded an honorary fellowship. A reduction in his teaching commitments now allows him to make music more - on paper and in sound. He also writes: his book 'the Story of Christian Music', reflecting his interest in and concern for church music, has been translated into a dozen languages.

Chris Harris is an actor, director ,writer,and teacher. An international entertainer touring to 57 countries worldwide with his own one man shows including Kemp's Jig. Ex-actor with Royal Shakespeare Company and Bristol Old Vic.TV actor and presenter, RTS award. Co-directed opera Griselda for Buxton festival. Member of Madrigal players, a group linked to WNO. Shows for Dutch NOSTV include subjects as diverse as Charles Ives and Monteverdi. A recognised Authority on the art of pantomime, he recently directed, wrote and played Mother Goose for Bath theatre Royal.(UK Productions).Directed National Theatre companies in Namibia, Turkey, Philippines Singapore and Hong Kong. Contact via www.chrisharrisproductions.btinternet.co.uk


Premiere at Theatr Mwldan February 9, 2006

Tivy Side, February 15 2006
Critics being murdered by offended and outraged artists - enough to make any local newspaper reviewers dip their pen in honey and tread carefully...

But Buddug James new one woman show - co-produced by Opera Cocktail and Theatr Mwldan - is guaranteed to dry up any critical ink. A Knife At The Opera - inspired by a particularly nasty review that Buddug suffered at the hands of a ferocious opera critic - deals with murder, mystery and music. Six dead critics, six opera diva suspects and one super sleuth to solve the mystery - DI Gethin Gumshoe backed by nimble-fingered Pc Andrew Wilson-Dickson at the keyboard.

The show is a delight from start to finish.

Buddug's deft comic timing, her ability to merge Z-Cars and Rossini without blinking an eye and her wonderful voice, together with the excellent musicianship of Wilson-Dickson, make for a great evening's entertainment.

Western Mail February 17, 2006
A Knife at The Opera is a lesson in the different demands made on the modern opera singer, Ms James offering a dazzling display of styles that combine pastiche with virtuosity: Miss Macho with her travesty roles, Miss Bagwitch the character actress, Miss Acrobatics and her coloratura, Miss Dot Demisemiquaver's cold precision, along with the self-evident Miss Baroque and Miss Diva.

Andrew Wilson-Dickson on keyboards also again proves himself accomplished, and is indeed a crucial part of a show that should appeal... to opera buffs and middlebrow audiences alike.

Theatre Royal, Waterford

 Waterford News & Star March 24 'highly original and wonderfully entertaining musical comedy...A singer and actor of immense talent, Buddug brilliantly portrayed the super Gumshoe along with the half dozen divas...’Eddie Hearne

Buxton Festival
Sheffield Telegraph, July 14  As the Laughing Policeman, Pink Panther and Z Cars themes ushered in a very large audience, anticipation was high. Had Welsh Mezzo Soprano Buddug Verona James got another one-woman show to equal her hilarious Castradiva? All things considered, just about, although perhaps not quite its equal. That remains unique.  Here she is, a Welsh Clouseau lookalike DI Gethin Gumshoe, investigating the elaborate murders of six opera critics, of which six offended female singers stand accused. He reads parts of the reviews, respectively on each singer which offer a motive, lines like "she has the imagination of a billiard table leg," the lady then appearing to defend herself with a dazzling aria. This necessitates Buddug dissappearing behind a screen, doing a quick costume change and emerging as a completely different character - repeating the process to become Gumshoe again. A tour de force in itself. Miss Macho ( a throwback to Castradiva) appears to sing the elaborate Bramo di trionfar from Handel's Alcina with amazing steady control. Miss Baroque becomes Cleopatra for an absolutely superb Piangero from Handel's Julius Ceasar which it elicited sporadic bravos in the audience. Every aria was magnificently sung. Miss Acrobatics sings a sensational Una Voce Poco Fa from Rossini's Barber of Seville.

She is an astonishing singer and was supported by "Seargant" Andrew Wilson-Dickson who performed some astounding feats on an electronic keyboard. Bernard Lee


Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
December 04, 2006

Last Tuesday I popped into the Wales Millennium Centre during my lunch break to pick up one of their What's On programmes. Whilst there I picked up a flyer for A Knife at the Opera. I read it and then went to buy tickets. It sounded interesting.
And so last night we went to the performance. It was amazing!
Allow me to try and explain what A Knife at the Opera is. It is an opera which combines comedy and murder mystery. There are six characters in the opera, all played by the same person. The first is Detective Inspector Gethin Gumshoe the detective who has to try and find out who killed the six critics. There are six prime suspects in the murders - each a different type of opera singer. The idea for the story originated from a bad review the performer once had from an opera critic.
The opera is performed by Buddug Verona James who, as the detective explains, in turn, why each diva is a suspect, but after explaining one there is a quick costume change and James has changed from detective into that suspect and performs a song before changing back into the Detective and moving onto the next suspect.
The six types of performer portrayed in the opera are Miss Macho, Miss Bagwitch, Miss Baroque, Miss Acrobatics, Miss Diva and Miss Dot Demisemiquaver. The Arias performed were Bramo Di Trionfar from Alcina by Handel, Marrito Vorrei from La Finta Semplice by Mozart, Piangero from Giulio Cesare by Handel, Una voce Poco Fa from II Barbiere di Siviglia by Rossini, Chanson Boheme from Carmen by Bizet, The Unaccompanied Aria from The Four Note Opera by Tom Johnson, and Striving and Whining by Andrew Wilson-Dickson.
Not only was the singing outstanding the show was littered with comedy and the audience laughed throughout.
But James was not the only star of the show. Andrew Wilson-Dickson was on keyboard and was the only musical accompaniment to the show, as well as being a part of the show (coming on stage at the beginning with the Detective as the plains clothes officer). His ability also stood out as he played the music for each aria as well as some incredibly pieces during the quick costume changes.
Together they have produced an outstanding show, one of the best I have ever seen.


Aberystwyth Arts Centre
1 February, 2007

One might think that going to a laugh-out-loud funny show about an operatically-inclined serial killer who preys on critics would not be the prize choice of show for a critic who has temporarily lost his voice to go to – but one might well be wrong. Last night in the Arts Centre, Cardigan-based mezzo-soprano, actress and butcher Buddug Verona James, and her accompanist Andrew Wilson-Dickson gave us a show which had spectacle without needless ostentation and blinding talent with no need for expensive backdrops.

Ms. James is the storyteller in this piece which is part straight play, part operatic showcase and almost wholly parody. Principally playing the part of DI Gethin Gumshoe, a Welsh detective who, with her ‘twpsyn’ of a Sergeant, who doubles as her accompanist. Six critics have been murdered – six operatic divas have been implicated, and the opera-lover Gumshoe is investigating in an attempt to clear their names.

The play is set most simply – a small police cordon on the stage (of which only half the depth was used), a blue flashing police light for certain moments, a desk, a chair, a keyboard and six boards, mounted on wheels, with the image of each of the six divas on one side and their costumes on the other, allowing Ms. James to display the costume at the start, turn it round, display the image and change into the diva in privacy. All the while Wilson-Dickson provides a virtuosic accompaniment, which had been preceded pre-show by a selection of the original recordings of various TV detective shows (it was a private joy to hear the Margaret Rutherford-era Miss Marple theme again, not to mention Cagney and Lacey!). Lighting was employed judiciously and sympathetically, perfectly evoking the emotion or technical requirements of each aria which Ms. James delivered. Sound, which is all in a show such as this, was perfect.

Buddug Verona James is a shape-shifting powerhouse. Her ability to don all these diva-esque characters, from the castrato-range Miss Macho, through the coloratura-specialist Miss Acrobatics (a particular highlight) and the militarily precise Miss Dot Demisemiquaver, is a joy to watch, and evidence of the startling talent she has become known for. Meanwhile, Wilson-Dickson is also more than entitled to his in-programme description as a ‘musical polymath’. His is a flowing, entertaining, witty style at the keyboard, and the pair mesh together beautifully to give a fantastic evening’s entertainment.

At only just over an hour long, this is not a show that is likely to tax, and it is frankly something that I would defy anyone with the remotest appreciation for comedy or music to fail to enjoy thoroughly. The only downside for me was that my current attack of laryngitis would not allow me to laugh more heartily. Paddy Cooper


What's on Wales
1 February, 2007

The story of a critic being murdered by an offended and outraged artist is enough to make any reviewer tread carefully, but Buddug Verona James’ one woman show - A Knife at the Opera – is guaranteed to silence any critic, without having to resort to physical violence.
Inspired by a particularly nasty review Buddug suffered at the hands of a ferocious critic, A Knife at the Opera deals with murder, mystery and music. Six dead critics and six opera diva suspects, with Buddug offering a dazzling display of the demand made on the modern opera singer: Miss Macho with her travesty roles, Miss Bagwitch the character actress, Miss Acrobatics and her coloratura, Miss Dot Demisemiquaver's cold precision, along with the self-evident Miss Baroque and Miss Diva. Add to this mix one super sleuth to solve the mystery – DI Gethin Gumshoe, all backed by Andrew Wilson-Dickson on the keyboard.
As a one woman show, playing seven characters in a murder mystery was quite a feat in itself, and involved Buddug dissapearing behind a screen for a quick costume change and reappearing as a completely different character, and having to repeat this process over and over. This was particularly amusing during the exchanges between the detective and each of the suspects individually.

Buddug’s fantastic comic timing, her ability to merge Z-cars and Rossini without blinking an eye and her wonderful voice, along with the magical musicianship of Wilson-Dickson made for a fantastic night out.

For full programme information and a video clip


June, 2009

Buddug Verona James has sung (inter alia) the roles of Orfeo (with Opera Atelier in Canada) and Orlofsky for Holland Park Opera; she has premiered roles in operas by (again, amongst others) Gerald Barry (Intelligence Park), John Woolrich (In The House of Crossed Desires) and Jonathan Dove (Tobias and the Angel). For one company or another she has sung the Sorceress in Dido and Aeneas, Rosina in The Barber of Seville, Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, Vitige in Flavio – and Mad Margaret in Ruddigore. As an actress she has played roles in the Welsh soap opera Pobol y Cwm and in Welsh-language Shakespeare. Of her versatility there is then, no doubt, and she exploits it to the full in her touring show A Knife at the Opera, in which she plays and sings seven different roles, a show devised with her – and her versatility – in mind.

The show’s spoken text is the work of Chris Harris, himself a considerable comic performer and it amusingly accommodates some very familiar (and one or two slightly less familiar) arias in a fashion which nicely allows both the absurdities and the beauties of opera to come to the fore (and not always one at a time, either).

Six opera critics have been murdered – in a variety of fashions. Each has written venomous reviews of one or more singer (not, of course, the kind of stuff you would ever find on the pages of MusicWeb International). We get to hear some choice quotations from their reviews read out by the detective investigating the murders, one Gethin Gumshoe – accompanied by a sergeant (played by Andrew Wilson-Dickson). Gumshoe turns out himself to be both an opera fan (in love, it seems, with most of the female singers he has ever seen and heard) and an aspirant singer (his performances with the Merthyr Amateur Operatic Society have had some bad reviews too). His investigation of the murders naturally leads him to consider as suspects the six opera singers who have each been the particular victim of the murdered critics.

As Gumshoe, James the actress comes into her own, with some good physical humour, some broad jokes; it’s a nice comic characterisation which creates a figure at times excessively self-confident at others very unsure of himself. The relationship with Wilson-Dickson’s policeman works well and Wilson-Dickson’s performance (beyond his well-established musicianship) has some nice comic touches. Occasionally the necessary costume changes, as James becomes each singer, shedding her Gumshoe raincoat (and moustache) for something more feminine, do rather rob proceedings of momentum, for all of Wilson-Dickson’s work at his electronic keyboard, though even his obvious skill doesn’t entirely reconcile me to that instrument. If resources allowed, some use of film (of the various divas) might be a valuable addition here. But the quibble is a small one – the energy and humour generally carries the audience along well.

The six divas who have become suspects are Miss Macho, Miss Bagwitch, Miss Baroque, Miss Acrobatics, Miss Diva and Miss Dot Demisemiquaver. Each is a kind of ‘specialist’ in the complex operatic trade. Miss Macho specialises in trouser roles – James’s singer is a splendidly accented Russian who intersperses Cossack dance steps in her performance of ‘Bramo di trionfar’ (from Handel’s Alcina). James’ genuinely impressive mezzo voice was heard at its best here. Miss Bagwitch, on the other hand, embodied the lesser-ranking, hard-working professional who specialises in supporting roles as witch or hag, aunt or nanny. James’s Miss Bagwitch – permanently masked when in character (and therefore known, we were happily informed as the “Bantam of the Opera”) had more than a touch of the dominatrix about her (both in appearance and in such details of her private life as we were given). Her aria was ‘Marrito Vorrei’ from La Finta Semplice, sung in a witty translation by Adam Pollock, the humour of which James exploited to the full. What is remarkable in A Knife at the Opera is the success with which it effects sudden transitions from broad humour to moments of poignancy. Thus some knock-about humour prefaced a very moving performance (for me the purely musical highlight of the evening) of Cleopatra’s ‘Piangerò’ from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, James was at this point a very dignified and pained presence on stage, summoning up a complex set of feelings quite without support of context or set. By way of contrast, the performance of Rosina’s ‘Una voce poco fa’ was ‘sung’ by a rather charming squashy doll with a very expressive face seated (like a ventriloquist’s dummy) on the knee of Gethin Gumshoe. Its ‘performer’, Miss Acrobatics naturally embodied the coloratura (coloraturalura as Gumshoe had it) specialist. A splendid red wig, a fine white fur coat and James became ‘Miss Diva’; the fur coat was removed and the castanets picked up to accompany the Spanish costume beneath the coat, and we had the ‘Chanson Bohème’ from Carmen. For all the efforts of James and Wilson-Dickson this was one place where one missed the orchestral colours of the real thing. By way of contrast to the starry figure of Miss Diva, the last of the six singers was Dot Demisemiquaver, the rather prim vegan described in the programme notes as “an intellectual opera singer who reads music very well, and is notable for her disciplined approach both to her music and to her colleagues. As most singers aren’t very good at counting she has found her niche”. Real musical humour depends on competence and there was no doubting the technical skill which underlay Buddug James’s very funny performance of ‘The Unaccompanied Aria’ from Tom Johnson’s The Four Note Opera.

Suspicions were resolved by the not very surprising (but entirely fitting) revelation that Gumshoe himself had been responsible for all the murders – partly because he wanted to revenge the savage reviews meted out to singers he adored and partly because he felt that such critics were one reason why he hadn’t been allowed the opportunity to win a place in the pantheon of Welsh singers, alongside such figures as – in his own words – Allied Jones, Bryn Teflon and Charlotte Chapel. One final opportunity existed. It might be his last performance before justice (or suicide, in the best operatic traditions) caught up with him. He left the stage to return in full Roman soldier’s regalia to sing ‘Dove Sono’ (not to be confused – well not too completely – with Mozart’s aria of the same name), a witty and powerful aria written by Andrew Wilson-Dickson. Like much else in the show it was the product of wit, knowledge and technical accomplishment. At its end, the close of the show, the strains of the theme from The Pink Panther came – as they had before the show began - from the loudspeakers. Inspector Clouseau bookended Handel and Rossini, Mozart and Bizet, in a manner which sums up the spirit (and methods) of this accomplished entertainment.

Both Buddug Verona James and Andrew Wilson-Dickson (each of whom, amongst their many other accomplishments , teach at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama) are fine musicians. What makes for such a delightful evening is their ability to laugh at themselves and their professions, while also demonstrating some of the real beauties and depths of the art. Warmly recommended. Don’t miss any chance you might have to see A Knife at the Opera.

Glyn Pursglove

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