Posts Tagged ‘English Touring Opera’

The Duenna, English Touring Opera [ETO], Royal Opera House Linbury Studio, October 2010

14 October, 2010

What fun this is! When I go to a comic opera I smile sometimes but towards the end of this romp, written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, I was laughing out loud. Actually it’s more Singspiel than opera, and none the worse for that. The music is delightful, written largely by Thomas Linley and his son Tom Linley, who wrote more of it than anyone else. Young Tom Linley was born the same year as Mozart (1756), but died in an accident when he was 22. He and Mozart met in 1770 and became friends, and as the music historian Charles Burney wrote that year about his travels in Italy, “The ‘Tommasino’, as he is called, and the little Mozart, are talked of all over Italy, as the most promising geniusses of this age.” The music for this charming comedy was written in 1775.

The story is full of misunderstandings and furious assertions of irrevocable decisions, but the essence of the plot is quite simple. The wealthy Don Jerome has a son and a daughter, Ferdinand and Louisa, who are in imminent danger of losing their lovers. One because her father is about to send her to a convent, and the other because Don Jerome rejects Louisa’s choice of the genteel but impoverished Antonio. He wants her to marry the dreadfully silly, but wealthy Isaac Mendosa. The Duenna is Louisa’s guardian in the household, but the two of them change places with hilarious results.

Richard Suart as Don Jerome was absolutely super. Assertive and irascible, he sang and spoke superbly. His diction was brilliant as was that of the whole cast. Nuala Willis as the Duenna was enormous fun, playing her part with relish, and Adrian Thompson as Isaac Mendoza gave an excellent portrayal of a wealthy by smug little twerp who thinks he’s frightfully cunning. Adam Tunnicliffe as the masquerader is on the stage much of the time, and his movements were delightful, helping the drama silently as if he were a single-person Greek chorus.

The Duenna and Don Jerome

The designs by Adam Wiltshire are glorious. The stage set-up with screens, and people appearing in frames to read letters they wrote, is really inspired. Marvellous lighting by Guy Hoare, all directed by Michael Barker-Caven, with the ETO Baroque Orchestra directed from the harpsichord by Joseph McHardy. It’s a pleasure to see English Touring Opera in London, and know that they will be taking this delightful production to other cities. It deserves to be a sell-out everywhere.

Two more performances at Covent Garden are scheduled for October 15 and 16 (matinee), after which it will tour to the following venues: Theatre Royal Bath, Oct 18 and 19; Malvern Theatres, Oct 22; De la Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, Oct 27; Exeter Northcott, Oct 30; Cambridge Arts Theatre, Nov 4 and 5; Harrogate Theatre, Nov 8; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Nov 27.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, English Touring Opera, Sadler’s Wells, London, March 2010

11 March, 2010

Jonathan Peter Kenny as Oberon and Gillian Ramm as Tytania, photo by Richard Hubert Smith

The right composer for an opera on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is surely Benjamin Britten, and he doesn’t disappoint. He created this work in 1960, having been well seasoned by the dramatic ambiguity of Peter Grimes, and the discomforting theatre of The Turn of the Screw. The first of these distils the opera from a collection of poems, and the second from a novel, but this one from Shakespeare must inevitably involve cutting the dialogue, and the main cut is at the beginning. Shakespeare starts his play in practical scenes at court, whereas Britten takes us straight into the mysterious world of the supernatural. His music is wonderfully evocative of that world, yet with simpler folk melodies for the rustics. It is deceptively simple, played by a relatively small orchestra, but a magical atmosphere is created, and this production by James Conway serves it very well indeed. The sets and costumes by Joanna Parker, with subtle lighting designs by Aideen Malone, are excellent.

Michael Rosewall conducted well, producing lovely sounds from the orchestra and keeping the singers in phase. They all sang with sensitivity, and Gillian Ramm as Tytania, and Laura Mitchell as Helena both did well. The part of Oberon was originally created for Alfred Deller, who could no longer manage the higher register, and it’s a difficult role for a counter-tenor. Here we had Jonathan Peter Kenny, who produced an attractive sound but was underpowered and lacked clarity in his diction — that was unfortunate since there were no surtitles in this production. By contrast, Puck’s Sprechstimme was colourfully done and well performed.

Gillian Ramm as Tytania and Andrew Slater as Bottom, photo by Richard Hubert Smith

While much of the music and action is on a rather ethereal level, an excellent contrast was created in this production by the interaction between Tytania and Bottom as a priapic ass. This was no idle attraction on her part, but a full-blooded sexual union, amusingly portrayed as Bottom falls asleep after the climax. If you don’t know Britten’s Dream, it’s worth seeing on stage rather than simply listening to, and this is a fine production to experience.

After London it will tour to the following venues: 20th March, Exeter Northcott Theatre; 24th March, Hall for Cornwall, Truro; 31st March, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield; 10th April, The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham; 17th April, Buxton Opera House; 24th April, Grand Opera House Belfast; 29th April, The Hawth, Crawley; 8th May, Snape Maltings Concert Hall; 15th May, Warwick Arts Centre; 22nd May, Perth Festival, Perth Theatre; 29th May, Cambridge Arts Theatre.