x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Laughing all the way to the opera

Nick Doody comes as part of the latest, intimate and reasonably priced Laughter Factory tour, packaged with Ian Coppinger and Dave Johns.

Nick Doody will perform as part of the Laughter Factory tour.
Nick Doody will perform as part of the Laughter Factory tour.

Nick Doody is a funny guy. So much so that he was booked as a support act by Bill Hicks on his final UK tour. In any art form besides stand-up, that would confer an aura of election such that it would scarcely matter what he did next. Imagine being hand-picked to open for Jimi Hendrix in his final months: by one of those obscure processes of mythological contagion, you'd become a chunk of rock history yourself, irrespective of whether you were any good. More recently, if less exaltedly, remember all those whey-faced scarecrows that stumbled into the pages of the NME on little more than a friendly word from The Libertines? The Others spring to mind, which is certainly more than they would have done without Pete Doherty's patronage. But then, music favours insiders in a way that comedy can't. One can nod along appreciatively to any old drivel provided its credentials are right. Laughter is hard to fake.

All of which makes it a bit of a puzzle that Doody hasn't done better for himself. He's a genuinely entertaining stand-up: no Bill Hicks, to be sure, but a witty fellow all the same. Sallow-eyed and faintly bilious, he trades less in the righteous screeds of his old tour mate than in a sort of depressive bafflement, spun into comic gold by excellent timing. And no, he's not doing badly: BBC Radio 4 listeners will have heard his material on The Now Show, and on Armando Iannucci's Charm Offensive. Yet one can't shake the feeling that his brand of sweet affrontedness ought to have made him more of a star; Richard Herring does well enough on it, after all. But no matter. He comes as part of the latest, intimate and reasonably priced Laughter Factory tour, packaged with Ian Coppinger and Dave Johns.

Another week, another opera star comes to Abu Dhabi. This time it's the French tenor Roberto Alagna, accompanied by Nathalie Manfrino and the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra, whom the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation is bringing to the Emirates Palace to crown a month-long French season of exhibitions and events that ends on June 4. Alagna is a peculiarly resonant figure to appear at this juncture. He's the husband of Angela Gheorghiu, who performed in the opening gala for this year's Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Festival. In fact, the two were known for a time as the Bonnie and Clyde of opera, thanks to their volatile relationship with audiences and employers.

A more impressive litany of sackings and walkouts it would be difficult to find in the world of classical music; with great vocal power comes great irresponsibility, it would appear. But Alagna is also reminiscent of both Andrea Bocelli, who played Admaf in March, and Marcelo Alvarez, who helped to close the Abu Dhabi Classics concert series last week. The common thread is that all three largely omitted the sort of conservatory training and academic slog usually associated with serious musical careers, instead jumping to the front of the queue on sheer talent and charisma. Alvarez, as I wrote last week, worked in a factory until he was 30, and it was only on his wife's prompting that he branched into singing. Bocelli, famously, was discovered by the Italian rock singer Zucchero, who needed vaguely operatic vocals for a track he was working on. And Alagna learnt his art by singing along to Mario Lanza films. He won the Luciano Pavarotti Voice Competition in the mid-1980s and never looked back.

Finally, a brief mention must be made of 14.05.09 - Undercurrent, the new show coming to Art Sawa this week. Showcasing the work of 30 Egyptian contemporary artists, from the venerable painter and sculptor Sobhi Guergues to the hip illustrator George Azmy, it should be an excellent opportunity to get up to speed on the Caironean scene. * Ed Lake