Posts Tagged ‘UCL Opera’

I Lombardi, University College Opera, Bloomsbury Theatre, March 2013

19 March, 2013

After UCOpera’s production of a Rameau work last year, which suffered from over-ambitious direction that didn’t gel, I was unsure what this year’s I Lombardi would be like. I need not have worried — it was terrific.

Giselda, image ©UCOpera

Giselda, image ©UCOpera

Suits of armour and chain mail are expensive, so director Jamie Hayes has updated it to warring gangs from the 1960s, with guns and the occasional knife. I Lombardi meets West Side Story, but it really works, and Charles Peebles produced wonderful playing from the orchestra. Early Verdi is so full of energy, and UCL have made a perfect choice for his bicentenary year. This is the opera that followed Nabucco, which starts a new run at the Royal Opera House on Easter Saturday, so here is an excellent chance to see the next collaboration between Verdi and his early librettist Temistocle Solera.

As an enthusiast for Italian unification and the Risorgimento, the story of Lombards fighting Islamic warriors formed an attractive background that would have resonated with Verdi’s audience, but the First Crusade no longer inspires us, so I applaud the change of location in time and space. The chorus members were entirely comfortable with their roles and sang with conviction, and the three pole dancers, particularly the middle one, were great fun. UCOpera uses UCL students, complemented by a sprinkling of professionals and they were lucky to have Katherine Blumenthal in the main role of Giselda.

She suffered the misfortune of serious transport disruptions, but hurtled down the motorway in a car, arriving with five minutes to spare though you wouldn’t have known it. Already in Act I her voice showed a fine characterisation of her feelings, and as the opera revolves around her it was a huge pleasure to see such a wonderful vocal portrayal of the role. Giselda is a source of affection and concern to four men: her father Arvino, his brother Pagano, crime boss Acciano and syndicate member Oronte, who is in love with her.

Pagano as hermit, image ©UCOpera

Pagano as hermit, image ©UCOpera

Among the students, Joseph Dodd sang well as Acciano, and Edward Cottell sang an excellent bass as Arvino’s right hand man Pirro. Among the professionals, Adam Smith sang strongly as Oronte, Jeff Stewart gave a lyrical rendering of Arvino’s role, and John MacKenzie was super as Pagano. His compelling stage presence was perfect for this criminal turned hermit who eventually achieves redemption.

Good set designs by Will Bowen and the clever lighting by Matthew Eagland managed to convey both fire and rain at the right moments, as well as changes of mood and location. If the production was a little tongue in cheek at times that only made it more fun, and director Jamie Hayes showed a fine sense of humour. Charles Peebles’ conducting was exemplary and the orchestra did him proud, particularly the wonderful violin solo for the party scene in Act III.

Don’t miss this glorious but rarely-performed early Verdi. There are three further performances on March 20, 22, 23 — for details click here.

The Three Pintos, University College Opera, UCL, Bloomsbury Theatre, March 2011

27 March, 2011

There’s only one real Don Pinto, the other two being imposters. The real one is on his way to marry Donna Clarissa, a young lady he’s never met, but on the journey this rather clueless young man falls in with the sharp-witted Don Gaston, who takes his place. At Clarissa’s family home, Gaston in turn meets Don Gomez, Clarissa’s secret beloved, who has been smuggled in by her servant Laura. The cheerful imposter generously decides to step aside in favour of Gomez, leaving Clarissa free to marry her beloved, despite her father’s plans in favour of Don Pinto, the son of a friend from long ago. The father has not met any of the three ‘Pintos’ — Pinto, Gaston or Gomez — so he is none the wiser. In the event, when his daughter and Gomez are united, the real Pinto enters, demonstrating the art of wooing that Don Gaston wittily taught him, and making a fool of himself. Nobody believes he’s who he says he is, and when he recognises Gaston and rushes furiously at him, he’s thrown out.

Act I, all photos by Dan Swerdlow

It was a romp. Some deliberately camp acting and nineteen sixties costumes including the most frightful baby doll dress in shocking pink for Clarissa. Played for laughs as a Rossini-like opera, it even had a swimming pool on stage in Act 3, just like Il Turco in Italia at the Royal Opera House.

This opera — Die Drei Pintos — is essentially by Weber, but he left it largely uncompleted when he died in 1826 aged 39, and his family tried to get someone to take it on. After several false starts they approached Meyerbeer, who hung onto it for 26 years, and did nothing. Eventually it found its way to a 26-year old Mahler, who did the remarkable job of putting it all together, and it’s a delight. Congratulations to UCL Opera and their music director Charles Peebles for putting it on.

Robin Bailey and Edward Davison as Gaston and Ambrosio

The performers, orchestra and singers are students at UCL and other parts of London University, along with some outsiders. Among these, Alistair Digges as Don Gomez was superb. What a noble voice and beautiful tone he has, and when he appeared suitably attired for the wedding, he looked quite the most charming man on stage. The other soloists also did well, but while the men sang in English the women seemed to be singing in some foreign tongue that I couldn’t fathom, though they certainly spoke in English. Robin Bailey gave a witty and well-sung performance in the main role of Don Gaston, ably supported by UCL student Edward Davison as a delightful Ambrosio, his valet. As the real Don Pinto, UCL student Nick Goodman sang and performed with great presence in what is astonishingly his first solo role.

Nick Goodman as Don Pinto, trying to woo the bride

In the end, Gaston admits that the original Don Pinto, who seemed to have gate-crashed the wedding party, is in fact the real one, and the astonished Gomez then turns to Gaston and says, “but you’re Don Pinto”. “So there are three Don Pintos!” says the astonished father, giving us the title of the opera, and with Gaston’s encouragement he blesses his daughter’s marriage to Don Gomez.