first night

Durham Opera Ensemble's 10th Anniversary Concert

Owen Sparkes sees DOE celebrate their tenth anniversary in style.

Durham Opera Ensemble’s aim with their Tenth Anniversary Concert was to provide an eclectic selection of arias and ensemble pieces, in order to both celebrate the work of DOE over its lifetime, and devise a story on the key parts of a lifecycle. Performed in Durham Castle’s Great Hall, this relatively short but extremely successful production absolutely achieved this. I left the evening feeling both moved and elated by the performances of the cast and orchestra, who delivered the high quality that the interesting theme and tricky acoustics required of them.

The performance began with the orchestra playing what can only be described as the most appropriate introduction to any story of a life through opera: The Overture to The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. As the performers rose from the ground and were seemingly born into the world, the directed idea (of the lifecycle) that I was unsure would carry immediately came into force and felt incredibly personal. I’m sure that many people have found their way into opera through such a well-known work! The director, Alabama Jackson, must be credited for deciding on such a bold idea to devise an evening of opera around. The theme remained strong and clear throughout, and although at some points it detracted from allowing individual arias to reach their full potential, in the second act the idea truly came into its own.

All of the cast and creative team must be congratulated on their success in taming the beast that is the acoustics of the Castle’s Great Hall. At certain points of the evening—such as ‘La Habanera’ from Bizet’s Carmen and the Champagne Chorus from Die Fledermaus by Strauss—the combination of a flawless orchestra conducted by George Cook and an incredibly strong cast caused the room to reverberate with the most phenomenal sound. Yet the Great Hall is a fickle creature; she giveth and she taketh away. Due to the position of the orchestra in front of the singers and being at the same level as the audience, during some of the quieter points in the arias, we simply could not hear what was being sung. The scene changes too could have been better executed in order to keep the magic going, although by the second act, the way that the scenes ran into each other was done very well.

Every single one of the singers deserves great acclaim, in particular the soloists, but a number of performances shone remarkably at this evening’s performance. Samantha Allsop and Amy Porter had the daunting task of opening the concert, yet their rendition from Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel was glorious, especially compared to the excitement of the overture before them. Additionally, Allsop’s ‘Che Sapete’ from The Marriage of Figaro was wonderful to behold; as she wandered through her stationary castmates we saw a new side to the well-known aria for which she should be very proud. Both Sophie Rudge and George Evan-Thomas stole the first act when they finished with a stunning duet from Die Zauberflöte, and Rowena Ashby’s marvellous performance of the aforementioned ‘La Habanera’ brought an energy to the stage that was second-to-none. For me, however, the height of the evening was Emer Acton’s ‘Dido’ from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Coming at a well-directed emotional stage of the production, Acton’s delivery had me captivated, as she delivered her lament with such underhanded yet totally clear emotionality.

Although each chorus member was fantastic, I admittedly felt that they were occasionally overused. I would have preferred to see certain intimate moments with less members of the cast on stage, or perhaps even leaving the soloists completely alone. Due to the nature of the pieces chosen, there were points at which it seemed as though those supporting were rather static, and they consequently detracted from the main performances. Having said that, when the ensemble was used to its full extent, it was a remarkable sight and sound to behold, exemplified by Jackson’s decision to use the cast to honour the date of 11th November and the memory of those lost in war.

Overall, DOE achieved its aim with great aplomb; I simply wish that the evening were longer, as I could have easily sat through another hour. I cannot recommend highly enough that you get yourself a ticket for tonight’s performance. Bravi tutti!

12 November 2016

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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