White Horse Opera; Spring Concert 2019

The Assembly Room in Devizes Town Hall, with its sparkling chandeliers and grand paintings, was the perfect venue for White Horse Opera’s glamorous Spring Concert on Friday.

Musical Director Ronald Melia and pianist Tony James took the company through a programme comprised of songs from Carmen and The Mikado, White Horse Opera’s forthcoming November show and touring opera respectively, with additional pieces by Puccini, Dvorak, Gounod, Mozart, and Flanders and Swann, and renditions of ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Santa Lucia’ from guest tenor and clarinetist Sebastiano Cipolla.

The show started in lively fashion with two duets from The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro, performed with delightful delicacy and chemistry by Jessica Phillips and Jon Paget; followed by Barbara Gompels soaring through Donde Lieta from La Bohème; Paula Boyagis singing Seguidilla and Card Aria from Carmen; and Charles Leeming singing The Sentry’s Song from Iolanthe (‘When in that house MPs divide…they’ve got to leave that brain outside’) with topical tweaks.  The first half concluded with a selection of pieces from the Mikado including the Willow Song and Three Little Maids.

The second half contained an ensemble from The Magic Flute (Chrissie Higgs, Louise Surowiec, Paula Boyagis, and Lisa House); Cherubino’s aria from The Marriage of Figaro (a ‘breeches’ song, as in a boy’s song performed by a girl, well done by Chrissie Higgs); Paula again singing A Word on My Ear, a funny Flanders and Swann song about a tone deaf singer which perversely showcases a whole range of musical tricks; Barbara singing the heart rending Song to the Moon by Dvorak beautifully (reminiscent of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, methinks); Sebastiano Cipolla and his clarinet; Lisa House’s pure voice powering through The Jewel Song from Faust; and then the entire company singing a medley from Carmen ending with the rousing March of the Toreadors.

There was much to like and admire in this show.  I enjoyed Graham Billing’s bashful and witty Ko-Ko, and his Little List song.  Being somewhat surprised to hear Ant and Dec and Boris mentioned in a White Horse Opera show I wondered whether it was traditional to update the references (it is, but it seems to have become more usual to do so since Eric Idle performed the song in the 80s).

It’s hard to say just how magnificent and moving some of these singers’ voices are, and impossible not to be impressed by the vocal acrobatics that opera demands.  Barbara Gompels and Lisa House produced some notes that thrilled me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes, and there were many other technical excellences and moving musical moments in the show from individual singers and the company as a whole.

But what impressed me most was the acting, particularly in the first duets, Jon Paget’s assertive and impressive Escamillo, and Paula Boyagis in everything she did.

One got the impression that Paula was in her element given the Flanders and Swann number, the Card Aria, and the passionate Carmen to get her teeth into.  She glittered, smouldered, flirted, pouted, sashayed up and down the aisle swirling her red skirts, seduced the audience and sang her wild gypsy heart out.  She’s a superb Carmen and a versatile singer and actress and I look forward to seeing her play the role in November.

Last but by no means least – Sebastiano Cipolla and his mellifluous voice and clarinet.  His lovely liquid jazz interpretation of Danny Boy was like nothing I have ever heard before, and his use of the clarinet as a prop in Santa Lucia was hilarious.  It’s good to be surprised by things, and Sebastian’s performance left me feeling that I had experienced something unusual and delicious.

I have to say that I found the whole night rather lively and surprising.  I’ve enjoyed White Horse Opera’s shows before but this one knocked spots off the rest and I think that’s for two reasons; one, that the shape of the Town Hall stage suits a static chorus with room for only a few actors, and two, that the energy levels and confidence of the entire company appeared to be sky high.

I thought White Horse Opera’s Spring Concert was wonderful, and afterwards people who know far more than me about opera agreed.

© Gail Foster 30th March 2019

Advertisements

White Horse Opera do ‘The Magic Flute’

IMG_4898

On Wednesday I went to the opening night of White Horse Opera’s much anticipated run of ‘The Magic Flute’, directed by Chrissie Higgs, at Lavington School.

Mozart’s ‘singspiel’ style opera, with libretto by his friend Emanuel Shikaneder, was first performed in Vienna in 1791.  It’s a classic fairy tale and love story in which boy gets girl, baddies get their comeuppance, and everyone else lives happily ever after.  It is also a profound and potted lesson in the initiatory processes and philosopy of the Freemasons, the brotherhood to which both Mozart and his librettist belonged, and the symbols of which permeate the work.

Prince Tamino, a fine upstanding lad of good character, and his flighty friend Papageno, the bird-catcher, having escaped the clutches of a serpent, are given a flute and a set of magical bells by three strange ladies and guided by three spirits (threes being a recurring theme throughout) to the castle and temples of Sarastro, High Priest of the Sun, in order to rescue the Queen of the Night’s daughter Pamina, with whom Tamino has fallen in love.  Along the way it becomes clear that all is not as it appears to be, and that they and the wholesome Pamina will have to undergo certain trials (of silence, fire, and water) in order to achieve (with differing degrees of success) true love and enlightenment.

‘The Magic Flute’ has a complex and varied musical score that showcases the genius of Mozart himself and the ability of any orchestra or company that performs it.  Musical Director Roland Melia’s superb nine-piece orchestra handled the material faultlessly from the wonderful overture (with all its hints of things to come) through numerous changes of mood and musical style to the end.  There’s real talent among the singers in this company, and great praises on this occasion are certainly due to the imperious Queen of the Night, Barbara Gompels, who hit the high Fs in her challenging coloratura soprano aria without a hint of screech; also to Lisa House as Pamina, for the consistent quality of her sweet and powerful voice in her duets and aria; talented young tenor Matthew Bawden (especially in the light of the fact that he only stepped in to Tamino’s shoes a couple of weeks ago); the ever-reliable Jonathan Paget for his feckless but loveable Papageno; and Charles Leeming as Mayor and High Priest Sarastro, for his imposing presence, low F, and booming bass.

The whole cast stepped up to the mark vocally, individually and in chorus (if there was a bum note I certainly didn’t hear it), and in the main (wake up a bit, you lads at the back!) the acting was good.   The trios of ladies and spirits were lively and amusing (great character acting from Chrissie Higgs and others), good support was given by ‘Councillor’ Ian Diddams, Stephen Grimshaw as the dodgy Monostratos was suitably creepy, and Papagena (Bryony Cox) and Papageno’s vibrant and unexpected little duet at the end of Act Two was a sheer delight.

Also to be commended was the use of lighting (Simon Stockley) with simple backdrops to create a variety of (at times genuinely spooky) atmospheres and surprises.

‘The Magic Flute’ is a peculiar thing.  The more you look at it the deeper and more uncomfortable and controversial it gets, and the more you try to place it in the present day the less it belongs here.  I’ve never seen it before, but I suspect that White Horse Opera’s quality production was an excellent introduction to its peculiar mysteries.  It certainly went down well with the audience, and whilst the subject matter left me feeling a bit disconcerted (‘It’s not a feminist opera’ someone remarked in the interval) and wondering whether Mozart got so carried away that he forgot or didn’t think it necessary to veil his allegory, the music is undeniably sublime and I enjoyed the performance very much.

‘Outstanding!’ someone else said afterwards, and I, albeit from a layman’s viewpoint, can only agree.

Well done, White Horse Opera!

Jolly good show.

© Gail Foster 13th October

White Horse Opera Spring Concert

 

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