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