Posts Tagged ‘UCL’

Acante et Céphise, University College Opera, UCL, Bloomsbury Theatre, March 2012

20 March, 2012

Each year University College Opera produces a little-performed opera from the past, and this year it was by the pre-eminent composer of eighteenth century French opera, Jean-Philippe Rameau. This particular opera was originally commissioned for the royal household to celebrate the birth of an heir to the heir to the throne, incongruously tacked on to the end of a story about two lovers, Acante and Céphise, a jealous genie Oroès and a good fairy Zirphile who protects the lovers by forming a telepathic bond between them. If Oroès hurts Acante he does the same to his desired Cephise, placing him in a quandary. In this production the royal birth is turned into several births and swaddled babies are literally thrown onto the stage at the end, one for each of the many couples in the chorus.

Acante and Céphise

There are several problems with performing Rameau. Of course UCL cannot be expected to play it on original instruments, but Charles Peebles in the orchestra pit produced fine music from the orchestra after a wobbly start in the overture, and he gave huge rhythmic bounce to the dance interludes. A second problem is what to do with the dance interludes and a third problem is the lack of good librettos — Rameau does not seem to have had very successful collaborations with his librettists. To deal with the second and third problems, UCL brought in Christopher Cowell to direct and to choreograph, aided by Scarlett Perdereau and Bella Eacott, but while the programme notes highlight his international work and his directing of Rolando Villazon in a revival of Contes d’Hoffmann at the Royal Opera House, an amateur production is a very different matter.


While some of the dancers did well with the choreography, that was not uniformly the case, but my main complaint was the acting. Zirphile looked as if she was in great pain after several of her Act I arias, and she and some of the dancers over-acted with their facial expressions. Less can be more, and this is surely the responsibility of the director, but Lawrence Olsworth-Peter as Acante, Katherine Blumenthal as Céphise, and Kevin Greenlaw as Oroès all showed fine stage presence. Greenlaw also sang very strongly, with excellent French diction, Ms. Blumenthal sang beautifully, and Anna-Louise Costello managed well in the relatively high pitched role of Zirphile. Among the UCL students who had solo roles, Rebecca Rothwell sang with fine pitch and a lovely tone, and the chorus were magnificent.

As Rameau lovers will know, the English National Opera produced their first Rameau opera, Castor and Pollux last November, and this may well be the first staging of Acante et Céphise anywhere since the 1760s, so catch it while you can.

Performances continue until March 24 — 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.