Ralph Wainer gives a detailed analysis on DOE’s first operatic offering of the year.
Durham Opera Ensemble gave first class performances at Castle College’s Great Hall and overall I was impressed by the effort and thought that went into organizing the evening.
The audience enjoyed the show from the comfort of individually named, candle-lit tables, which they were already assigned to. The generous helpings of wine where definitely not required to soften the ear, – in fact I found several members of the audience, including myself, closing their eyes to focus on the music at hand.
The evening was concluded with all members of the audience rising up for our National Anthem, and then giving DOE its well-deserved standing ovation.
The opera company boasted two very capable musical directors who conducted an orchestra (which could well have been a professional group). Musical director Lewis Wilkinson remained very focused on the task at hand, with the excusable exception from when Cleopatra – played by the stunning Bridget Tomlinson – went over to distract the poor chap.
The overture by Mascagni was a great entry to this delightful evening of opera; a purely orchestral piece, it gives the audience the opportunity to fully appreciate the hard work behind its quality. As an amateurish (yet long-practicing) violin player, I can safely vouch for the quality of the violinist, and was equally impressed by the musicians on the horn.
After the overture came a piece by Donizetti, which was accompanied by the entire opera ensemble and Mariana Werdine as the soloist. In her red cloak and tiara, Mariana gave a great performance and acted equally well. There was a near perfect moment of absolute silence in this piece.
I noticed another period of absolute silence during Sophie Rudge’s rendition of Handel’s Serse during the second half and must stress how exact these pauses were.
Following this came a piece by Mozart, performed by a female duo and male trio. All five were well synched and accurately chosen with complementary voices. William Emery, though vocally great, was a bit too ‘smiley’ on stage, although I was glad to know that first-years were also given the limelight. John Turner-Smith and Aaron Prewer-Jenkinson gave great performances together with Rebecca Madden and Sophie Kidwell.
Next in line was a very good performance by Fiona Brindle, emotionally singing Purcell’s ‘Cold Song’. This was one of my personal favourites; however it perhaps needed to be slightly louder.
On a side note, someone in the DOE must be quite a big fan of Purcell in general, as the evening featured two of his pieces.
Jason Kwan gave a rounded good performance of Mozart’s ‘La Vendetta’, although at times it was difficult to hear his voice, possibly because he was positioned close to the orchestra. Jason definitely has stage persona – he started his performance with force, and captured the character of the music perfectly.
The first half of the performance came to an end with the entire ensemble singing two pieces from the opera ‘Patience’. The choreography seemed a little too comic at first, but then I realized that it was (of course) a piece by Gilbert and Sullivan. Choreographer Rebecca Meltzer did a great and imaginative job at organizing the chorus.
The evening continued with a piece by Gluck performed by soloist Marnie Blair. A large proportion of this piece was purely orchestral and Josie Williams did a great job at directing the actors in unison with the music. In particular, the penultimate ‘Flower Duet’ (Delibes), perhaps the one of the most recognizable songs of the evening, was especially well done. Sophie Emms and Rachel Newell had clearly spent much time perfecting this.
‘The ‘Humming Chorus’ by Puccini was entirely unexpected and very memorable, with the chorus placed on both sides of the hall.
All in all, DOE has provided the audience with an emotional experience and I strongly recommend all to come see this evening of opera for an unforgettable experience.
Photograph: Venus Loi