White Horse Opera’s Spring Concert, at the Town Hall in Devizes; a review
On Friday night, I went to see White Horse Opera’s Spring Concert in the Town Hall.
White Horse Opera formed in 1990, with the aim of bringing high quality opera at affordable prices to Devizes and the surrounding area. Since 1990 they have performed over 20 operas, including Aida, La Boheme, and Carmen, and in October they will be putting on Mozart’s intriguing opera, The Magic Flute.
One always hopes that these things are going to be good, in the full knowledge that amateur productions are seldom flawless.
I end up sat next to Andy Fawthrop. Andy is, like myself, a cynical poet. It could be an interesting night.
Stage set. Grand paintings in golden frames. Glittering chandeliers. One pianist (Tony James), one Musical Director (Roland Melia – check out his impressive international CV), eleven sopranos, four altos, four tenors, and four basses (all dressed to kill), three quarters of an audience (more publicity next time, people), two cynical poets, and a programme of Mozart, Mendelssohn, madrigals, Stanford, Rossini, Donizetti, and little bits of Bizet.
They start with ‘Down by the Sally Gardens’. Sweet. Then Morley’s ‘Now is the month of Maying’. Lively. Then Stanford’s ‘Bluebird’, sung by Jessica Phillips. Oh. I look at Andy. Andy looks at me. A tear has sprung unexpectedly to my eye. That’s beautiful. So pure. Quality.
And so it goes on. ‘Fair Phyllis I Saw’, and ‘The Silver Swan’, and then, from The Magic Flute, a superb solo from Lisa House in ‘Love I Fear Has Gone Forever’, Charles Leeming’s deep and resounding ‘Sarastro’s Aria’, and to end the first half, Barbara Gompels, singing ‘The Queen of the Night Aria’ from The Magic Flute.
Now there’s a test of a soprano, if ever there was one. Andy has raised an eyebrow, and I am overwhelmed by Barbara’s magnificent performance of such an intricate song. Amazing.
By the interval Andy and I are stunned into silence. Neither of us can find anything to be cynical about. It’s unusual, and I have to go out and have a cigarette to get over it.
The second half starts and ends with The Magic Flute, and there’s a lot of chorus action. Stephen Grimshaw gives an expressive rendition of ‘Monostatos’ Aria’, and Barbara sings ‘Micaela’s Aria’ from Carmen (White Horse Opera are touring Carmen this year, and you can book them, you know. Just saying).
Then it’s ‘The Chorus of Fairies’ from Midsummer’s Dream (nice wands), ‘Chorus Maria Stuarda’, ‘Chorus Santo Imen’, and Donizetti’s ‘Chorus L’Elisir d’Amore’ (bit of surreptitious jigging in the audience to this one – steady), a lot of cheerful hey-nonnying in Stanford’s ‘Sigh No More’, from Much Ado About Nothing, and then Bizet’s ‘Carmen Chorus’ (pinch me, are people actually tapping their feet?), and, finally, ‘The Magic Flute Chorus’.
I look at Andy. Andy looks at me. Both of us raise an eyebrow. That was superb, and neither of us have a single bad word to say about it. The individual performances were impressive (I’d like to give Chrissie Higgs a mention for her contribution), the whole chorus worked well together, there was a liveliness to the whole thing, and the acoustics in the Town Hall were wonderful. Andy remarks afterwards on the quality of the pianist, and that the simple and unfussy arrangements complemented the singers perfectly. Everyone seems to have enjoyed it, and lots of people look pleased.
On the way out, I accost a random stranger, and pester him for a quote. ‘A lovely, relaxed, and charming evening’ he says, smiling.
It really was very good indeed.
When I was a kid my neighbours rang up my parents and politely requested that I desist practicing ‘Toreador’ on the piano. From that point on, until White Horse Opera’s ‘Iolanthe’ last year, I have enthusiastically given opera a miss.
I think White Horse Opera may have changed my mind.
I look forward to The Magic Flute.
© Gail Foster 12th March 2018