Sunday, September 24, 2017


Barefoot Opera at St Leonard's, Shoreditch

Gloomy, Palladian St Leonard's. If any artist were roaming its shadows, it should surely be Mario Cavaradossi. But here it's Marcello and his student chums, bringing bohemian Paris to vibrant life in Barefoot Opera's lovely chamber version of Puccini's earlier hit.
It's not an obvious venue for opera. Hard pews, poor sight-lines, and an ecclesiastical acoustic, in which the band and the women fared best, leaving the men to struggle to make their words clear in the muddying wash. But the space is well used dramatically in Jenny Miller's intimate new production: the nave becomes the street, the Café Momus blends into the audience, a simple scaffold gives height, with a banner backdrop which also screens the surtitles. Umbrellas provide a sense of place, and lighting; they make a wonderfully atmospheric start to Act III.
A very small chorus – and no gamins; I liked the way that actors portrayed the wind, the garret parrot and even the moon. Lesley Anne Sammons directed a tiny band from the piano – the use of the accordion [Milos Milosovic] was inspired, and seemed so right for the Latin Quarter. Another stroke of genius was to have the Musician, Shaunard [Andrew Sparling], flit between stage and pit, contributing some superb clarinet solos.
Mimi was beautifully sung by Lucy Ashton – a bright, rich soprano voice. Her “pink bonnet” aria in Act III, and the duet which followed, were musical highlights of the evening. Andrew McGowan, in red baseball cap and black lipstick, was a very modern Rodolfo. Perhaps because of the acoustic, his tenor sometimes seemed underpowered, but he had some fine moments, notably the “Addio” quartet at the end of Act III. The other couple, whose tiff provides dramatic counterpoint to Mimi's reconciliation with her poet, were the strongly sung – and colourfully characterized - Marcello of Oscar Castellino, and Kayleigh McEvoy's impressive Musetta, the scarlet party-girl who leaves Alcindoro [Tim Patrick] for Marcello. Her big number, the seductive Waltz song, was delivered in a very animated style, modelling hats, stripping on a table, kicking assiettes, and never missing a note or an inflection.
The philosopher student, Colline, [Matthew Thistleton] cut a much more traditional figure than the poet, the painter or the musician. A classic profile, and a burnished baritone for his “Vecchia zimarra”, where he bids farewell to his favourite overcoat.
This intimate production, uniquely bringing a fresh, youthful perspective to the classic opera, ends its tour in Cheltenham on October 28 – their next show, in Hastings, will be very different: Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea.

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