first night

Darkness and Light

Jack Moreton is impressed with DOE's first operatic offering of the year


It was with a sense of slight trepidation that I entered Caedmon Hall on Friday night for Durham Opera Ensemble’s (DOE) latest offering: Darkness and Light. An ambitious attempt to bring some of opera’s more renowned works to the Durham stage, Darkness and Light saw the production team throw together an eclectic program, featuring vignettes from Händel to Humperdinck and Monteverdi to Mozart. But what a triumph it was!


From the very first notes of the finely executed overture of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, the orchestra set a high standard that was more or less maintained throughout the first act under the skilled leadership of Harry Castle.


A hard act to follow, Tom Rowarth gave the well-polished orchestra a run for their money, setting the mood with a strong and characterful entrance through the cabaret-style audience seating. Unfortunately, his impressive characterisation as the Sorcerer wasn’t quite matched by members of the chorus, who very occasionally throughout the production lapsed out of character and seemed to lack direction and purpose. Nevertheless, the incredible vocals of the full chorus made up for any lack in acting, blending seamlessly and producing glorious sounds in the full ensemble numbers, most noticeably in the Act II finale taken from La Traviata.


That is not to say that this production required the 40-strong cast to impress the audience though; the male ensemble delivered brilliantly in the Act I finale, Beethoven’s “O welche Lust”, and likewise the Don Giovanni sextet. Ben Craw deserves a mention for his role in the latter as the despairing Leporello, employing great facial expression and gesture to complement his strong and rich bass voice.


The second act was comparatively toned down, predominantly featuring solos and duos. Whilst this showcased the fantastic voices of DOE, Bridget Tomlinson, James Quitmann and Ellen Roberts amongst them, it also put the spotlight back on the orchestra and it was in the second act that mistakes crept in. Though Janna Stammeijer did at times coax moments of brilliance from her musicians, all too frequently the orchestra and on-stage performers failed to keep in time. Combined with the occasional mis-pitch in the orchestra, this created a slight air of under-rehearsal. Nevertheless, the moments at which the orchestra and singers did come together provided some of the most memorable of the evening, and I especially enjoyed Humperdinck’s “Abendsegen”.


Newcomer James Quitmann particularly impressed as Riccardo, captivating the audience with his woeful tale of unreturned affection, and Bridget Tomlinson held the stage well with her expressive portrayal of Cleopatra.


From start to finish, this production was one of quality. Musical directors Castle and Stammeijer produced a fantastic sound from chorus and principals alike and managed to control the balance between orchestra and vocalists throughout, with only the occasional weaker solo voice being lost. Subtle changes in lighting were successful in distinguishing between the excerpts and the contrasting moods of each piece, and the simple yet effective costume design contributed well to the visual spectacle. Credit must be given to Directors Rebecca Meltzer and Ambrose Li for their deft artistic touches; though the blocking was at times unambitious, it was on the whole very effective in conveying the mood of each excerpt, and this was epitomised in the triumphant final chorus of “Libiamo ne’ liete calici”. I’m sure it wasn’t just me swaying in time to the music!


Despite a few first night technical and musical glitches, this show impressed throughout; the only real shame was that it couldn’t have lasted a little longer! I strongly encourage anybody who fancies a break from end of term deadlines to consider a trip to Caedmon Hall on Sunday. Seasoned operagoer or not, you are bound to come away smiling!

30 November 2013

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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