Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Exhilarating Last Performance for Summer

Opera Cocktail

OperaUpClose , Summerhouse, Aberystwyth , August-30-18
Opera Cocktail by OperaUpClose The Summerhouse is the name given to a circus tent on Aberystwyth's Chapel Court. A month of summer programming began with joyous circus from Ethiopia, proceeded via a double mini-Shakespeare and has arrived at opera. A big top might be an incongruous setting for opera but in fact the colour fits well. The canvas is bright blue and the set for "Opera Cocktail" is bright with summery colours. A pastel deckchair sits next to a table with a brightly coloured checked tablecloth.

The words OperaUpClose chooses with which to describe itself are “unintimidating, affordable and high-quality”. On its last visit the company surprised us by staging Puccini's Paris at night in the Arts Centre bar area. A waiter raced by with a real tray of drinks from the real bar and weaved in and around the audience. It worked superbly. The company is one of those in Russ Hope's book “Getting Directions”, reviewed 6th November 2012, and innovation is its lifeblood. No other company has taken the Queen of the Night and put electric guitars into the orchestration. It worked very well, says artistic director Robin Norton-Hale. In Newham, a little advantaged borough of London, it is working on an opera for 3-5 year olds.

“Opera Cocktail” is the one tonight, part of the company's regular repertoire, and one with a flexibility of performance. It collates with some cleverness a selection of arias, duets and ensembles to make a narrative in its own right. The story is classic, woman and man meet, part, yearn, rejoin. The production is usually in the hands of a trio of singers, performing from “La Bohème”, “Carmen” and “La Traviata.” A late illness has reduced this performance to tenor Simon Gfeller and soprano Elinor-Jane Moran. It makes no difference. Both are excellent and expressive actors as well as possessors of voices to set the tent canvas quivering. Elspeth Wilkes provides the music and plays several solo pieces between the singing.

At the Fringe the names of companies run the spectrum of the plain to the surreal. That of OperaUpClose is one of great aptness. The seating in the tent incorporates a string of tables around the performance space. When the characters are separated, the singers' attention turns to those who are seated nearby. Some of us get to experience a closeness of opera that was never expected. The summer audience loves “Opera Cocktail.”

The programme has some arias of great familiarity like “the Drinking Song”. Donizetti and “the Elixir of Love” is a natural for the narrative. In a nod perhaps to the location of Wales the tone switches with a touch of Ivor Novello. A personal favourite: Handel taking the words of Alexander Pope for “Semele.” For the setting next to the trees that adorn Bronglais Hill his words, sung with utmost clarity, reach out.

“Where'er you walk, cool gales shall fan the glade,
Trees where you sit shall crowd into a shade:
Where'er you tread, the blushing flowers shall rise,
And all things flourish where you turn your eyes.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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