Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Guthrie’

The Barber of Seville, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2012

9 March, 2012

Clever designs and glorious costumes by Rhys Jarman give a fine dramatic underpinning for this production of Rossini’s Barber, and Grant Doyle made a marvellous entrance as the barber, Figaro.

All images by Richard Hubert Smith

This was the first night, and after a nervous start things came together in Act II. Kitty Whately made a beautifully inspiring Rosina, mistress of the situation despite the machinations of her guardian Dr. Bartolo along with his friend and her singing teacher Don Basilio. Alan Fairs was a super Basilio, giving this amoral and ridiculous character a slightly threatening aspect in his dealings with Bartolo, and the doctor himself was commandingly performed, with excellent diction, by Andrew Slater, whose attempt at joining the singing lesson in Act II was wittily out of tune. The role of Rosina’s lover, Count Almaviva in his various disguises is not an easy one to pull off well, but after a shaky start, Nicholas Sharratt proved himself a passionate and determined fellow.

Figaro and Almaviva

Direction by Thomas Guthrie gave perhaps too much humour to the stage action at some points, but this might settle down later in the tour. For instance in late Act I when Almaviva surreptitiously shows the police chief his identity the entire police squad is utterly cowed, but then rather strangely a moment later they grab hold of him without the least hesitation. The orchestra under the direction of Paul McGrath was a bit ragged in parts, and I would have liked to see more lightness of touch in the overture where the Rossinian bounce was lacking.

Figaro, Almaviva and Rosina

But in terms of sets, costumes and lighting this is a lovely production, and the singing was very fine. Kitty Whately is someone to watch out for, and Grant Doyle is a superbly versatile performer who played the lead role in a new opera at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio, which was arguably the best new production the Royal Opera House put on in 2011. He continues in the role until April 13.

After a second performance at the Hackney Empire on Saturday, 10 March, this production tours to: Exeter Northcott, 20, 22, 23 March; Hall for Cornwall, Truro, 26, 28 March; Lighthouse, Poole, 30 March; York Theatre Royal, 3 Apr; Norwich Theatre Royal, 10 Apr; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 13 Apr; Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 16, 18 Apr; The Hawth, Crawley, 20 Apr; G Live Guildford, 23 Apr; Buxton Opera House, 26, 28 Apr; Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, 1, 3, 4 May; Warwick Arts Centre, 9, 12 May; Gala Theatre, Durham, 14 May; Perth Festival, Perth Theatre, 17, 19 May; Cambridge Arts Theatre, 22, 24, 25 May — for details click here.

The Fairy Queen, English Touring Opera, ETO, Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, October 2011

12 October, 2011

Purcell for the twenty first century — or perhaps the seventeenth, or the nineteenth — and it’s enormous fun.

All photos Richard Hubert Smith

This semi-opera, based on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, is a series of masques written by Purcell a century later in the early 1690s, and this production is based on the incarceration in a mental hospital of nineteenth century artist Richard Dadd. His work shows a fascination with fairies and other supernatural subjects, including scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest.

It all starts before the overture as two figures shimmy up ropes in the darkness, hanging there like bats. When the lights come on we see Oberon and Titania camouflaged in leotards of sky blue and clouds against a similar background. Then suddenly they move, daringly high up on the stage. You think this is daringly modern, yet apart from the lighting we could well be back in the seventeenth century, and as soon as the overture is over we are in Dadd’s lunatic asylum.


I’ve seen lots of operas with hospital beds in recent years, but this one really works. One patient is missing, and as he arrives in pyjamas, utterly inebriated, he wanders into the audience, plucks the lady in front of me from her seat, and asks to play blind man’s buff. He then takes her seat and sings to her neighbour before the other performers chase him through the auditorium.

It’s a magical mixture of ribaldry, sensuality and melancholy to Purcell’s effortlessly enjoyable music from the seventeenth century, played on period instruments. The musicians, conducted by Joseph McHardy give full rein to the gambolling lyricism of the music as well as its sadder and more pensive aspects. The period instruments are vital to creating a lightness of touch, which can be utterly lost if we play Purcell as a venerable English composer from hundreds of years ago. Venerable? My goodness he was barely 36 when he died, and anyone who has been to the Globe Theatre will recognise the rhythmic pulse of his music in the dances that the performers put on at the end of the show.

Thomas Guthrie’s production with its designs by Roger Butlin and excellent lighting by Kevin Treacy, has moments of pure enchantment. The acrobats on the ropes were superb, and the mysterious figures of the Oberon and Titania puppets were cleverly manipulated, particularly when they danced. This was an entrancing evening with fine performances from the singers; I particularly liked Nina Lejderman’s voice and Aidan Smith in his role as the drunkard was huge fun.

This is an evening to enjoy, not just to hear the music of England’s finest native-born composer before the twentieth century, but to be connected to four hundred years of English entertainment from the first late Elizabethan age to the second.

Performances continue on tour: Theatre Royal Bath, 17th Oct 2011; Buxton Opera House, 20th Oct; West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, 27th Oct; Theatre Royal, Lincoln, 29th Oct; Harrogate Theatre, 3rd Nov; Wycombe Swan Theatre, 8th Nov; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 11th Nov; Exeter Northcott, 17th Nov; Malvern Theatres, 26th Nov. For further details click here.