A Persian Cafe, Edward Lord Weeks

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Two Opera Reviews

(The normal purpose of reviews is to guide the reader as to what is worth seeing/doing. Both of these were one-offs, which makes this rather redundant, but feel free to read anyway.).

The final concert I attended in Manchester was Venus and Adonis and Dido and Aeneas, performed by the New London Consort, Anna Dennis, Roderick Williams, and Penelope Appleyard. The musical performance was done on period instruments, and beyond that there is little to say. For an opera, this need not be a bad thing, since the focus is after all the singers. The playing was competent, if uninspired. I didn't notice any errors, but nor did the instrumentalists at any point make me sit up and think "That's amazing!"
A picture presumably of a rehearsal: Roderick
Williams left, Penelope Appleyard left, and one of
the backing singers in the middle. Taken from
Appleyard's website.

Anna Dennis played Venus and Dido. I can't remember a great deal, this being a full month ago now, but her singing was fine - at times unclear, but that's always a risk with sopranos. Roderick Williams played Adonis and Aeneas with gusto - aside from a touch of grey hair (he is 50, after all) he looked every inch the besotted young hunter as Adonis, and just as much the sharply dressed, confident statesman as Aeneas. Penelope Appleyard was a playful Cupid and a sympathetic Belinda, and played both roles well. (As a side note: she looked pretty as Belinda, but this was as nothing compared to how attractive she looked when cross-dressing in order to play Cupid. I'm not certain whether this is a fact about her appearance or about the tenuousness of my heterosexuality).

The background singers were for the most part competent. I wasn't a great fan of the performance of the Spirit disguised as Mercury, though the use of sunglasses to indicate when the singers were evil spirits and when they were court attendants was a nice touch.

The operas were both interesting enough - neither would make a list of my favourite operas, but I am glad to have heard them and would happily listen to them again.

Earlier this week I was at a church in Stourbridge to hear "Opera: The Best Bits!", a concert put on by a local community choir and orchestra who give a charity concert each year with a different theme. I was there due to a family friend being in the choir, and to be honest it was about as mediocre as you would expect. The performers were for the most part competent but not professional, and it showed. Most obviously there was a lack of confidence among many members of the orchestra, which made the slips (when they happened) very easy to hear. The compère was a local boy made good, who is now an actor down in London, but he was horrendously under-prepared: he introduced every song in the exact same way ("This piece is from [opera], which was first performed at [opera house] in city [in year], and tells the story of [frequently inaccurate two-sentence summary]. The hero/heroine does/doesn't die at the end.") and clearly hadn't looked up the pronunciation of some of the names - my mother was struggling to avoid laughing at his reference to "Oh fondue temple saynt".

The choir were barely audible above the orchestra at time, but were otherwise in good tune. The soloists were perhaps the most variable part of the evening - one was a professional soprano who gave genuinely excellent interpretations of Habanera, the Flower Duet and other overplayed mainstays of opera collections, while at the other end was a member of the choir who ambitiously but perhaps unwisely attempted (among other songs) Nessun Dorma but completely lacked the strength of voice to pull it off. It wasn't a waste of an evening, but had I been required to pay for my ticket (aren't parents wonderful?!) I would have baulked at it.

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