Posted tagged ‘Garden Opera’

Garden Opera: The Barber of Seville

September 16, 2009

GardenOpBarber

On Friday 11 September, to Garden Opera at Ravenscourt Park, London W6 – the very last performance of their summer-long season, and the only one we could get to!

The weather was kind – not too chilly, and it didn’t rain.  The setting was a lovely peaceful enclosed space, disturbed only by the occasional District Line train and the enthusiastic intervention of some local parakeets.  Handy tea-shop before the performance, loos rather a long dash in the interval…  The audience we presume were mostly local:  pretty much a full house, appreciative and animated.

The opera was Rossini’s BARBER OF SEVILLE, in a very simple, slick and extremely funny production by Katharina Wienecke.  The action was set in ‘Dr Bartolo’s Circus’, seemingly an odd idea but it worked very well, with Rosina ‘The Singing Bird’ (in a cage, of course) as the star attraction, her disgruntled guardian Dr Bartolo a retired animal-tamer, and Basilio an unlikely magician, forever producing scarves, flowers and magic wands from a variety of orifices.  Count Almaviva and Figaro the barber survived relatively unscathed from Rossini’s (or his librettist’s) original conception.  Occasional inconsistencies (Dr Bartolo was required to be a physician after all, to match the text of his patter-aria) either didn’t impinge or were turned into sources of comedy.  And, as in the best Barber performances, there were moments of (almost) genuine pathos.

The show took forever to get going, partly because of interminable if well-intentioned announcements from a distinguished local worthy (over incessant pre-recorded fairground organ music);  then the Overture started as another fairground organ piece, gradually morphing into the ‘live’ orchestra of Peter Bridges and his small but perfectly formed circus band (flute doubling clarinet, trumpet doubling flugelhorn – David Clewlow, no less – plus two violins, cello and the maestro himself on piano).  At long last the opera itself began;  the first scene (even without the chorus) does seem interminable, but that is Rossini’s fault. 

Once the show got up steam (more…)

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Garden Opera: Don Pasquale

August 27, 2008

Another August Bank Holiday, another Garden Opera performance in the magical setting of the Observatory Garden in Greenwich… (so it must be a year since I started this blog!  Hey!  Happy birthday to me!)

Alas, no idyllic weather this time, but at least the rain held off.  The audience was enthusiastic but not a full ‘house’ – where were the Burghers of Blackheath?  Not all in Tuscany, surely?  Perhaps put off by the weather, or by the relatively unfamiliar opera on offer?

Donizetti is mostly known for his prolific output of bel canto operas on serious or historical subjects, but he was also a dab hand at comedy, managing to combine swift-flowing action with hilarious patter songs, gentle lyricism and (as my friend Diana noted) some eyebrow-raising sudden key-changes.

Ernesto, the tenor lead, has probably the hardest task in Don Pasquale, having to play the soulful romantic while all about him are embroiled in comedy.  Alexander Anderson-Hall rose bravely to the challenge, having to work hard at times but to fine effect.  He could also ‘do’ the comedy when required.

Catherine May, as Norina, was a treasure – huge expressive eyes conveying every nuance of surprise, horror, complicity, teasing, play-acting and genuine affection.  And she could do the high notes too!

James McOran-Campbell, charismatic as ever (and with a green corduroy three-piece suit to die for), made Dr Malatesta into an untypically youthful but convincing and very funny conspirator.  Last but not least, as the eponymous Don Pasquale Deryck Hamon was a hoot – all arms and legs in confusion, infuriatingly pompous, ridiculous when trying to be ‘with it’, yet winning our sympathy for his plight.  And he had the low notes…

Bernie Lafontaine provided deft orchestrations for his hard-working six-piece band, which once again sounded convincingly like a whole orchestra.

Stage direction was by Duncan Macfarland (of the Royal Opera House) who updated the action to the ‘late 1970s’, explaining that it was a time when 1960s counter-culture collided head-on with the bourgeois values of middle England, thus enabling him to retain the conflicts of the original while playing down the now-unacceptable social stereotypes of Donizetti’s day.  (This did mean losing the bite of the final ‘moral’, in which ‘When an old man wants to marry, he’ll only make a fool of himself’ became something harmless about ‘losing a guidebook’…)

Designers Neil Irish (sets) and Dulcie Best (costumes) rose to the challenge brilliantly.  (more…)

All you need is…

August 27, 2007

…a simple stage set and a few props that can (literally) be packed in the back of a van,  a six-piece band, a small cast of young singers (singing in English), and a garden somewhere, and you have the ingredients for a performance by GARDEN OPERA (oh, and good weather is a help).

I’ve just walked home from the Old Observatory Garden in Greenwich (a magic setting), with a song in my heart, a lump in my throat, and — oh dear, is that something in my eye? (sniff)…  This was a performance of La Boheme, one of sixty performances on Garden Opera’s summer tour, and it was wonderful.

As a corrective to over-elaborate productions at *ahem* the Royal Opera House and elsewhere,  Garden Opera is about the essentials, stripping away distractions such as lavish settings, chorus, supernumerary actors and production ‘Konzepts’;  what remains is the essence of the opera, the music, the storytelling and the emotion.

Of course you also need a company whose members are all totally dedicated to what they are doing (on a shoestring), and an arranger, conductor and director with a clear idea of what they are aiming for.  Garden Opera is a shining example on all fronts, and has given me some of my most intense operatic experiences in recent years (including the most moving Magic Flute ever — and the only one in which the Queen of Night also played Papagena and [if my memory serves me] the serpent;  a mind-stretching Don Giovanni;  and a Carmen with a stomach-turningly realistic and unexpected murder only a few feet from where I was sitting). (more…)