Hear the audience response for HMS Pinafore Wednesday night!
Sitting down to watch LUU’s Opera Society’s latest endeavour, I was filled with anticipation. Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic romp HMS Pinafore tells the classic story of impossible love between a low-rank sailor and the ship captain’s daughter, invoking humour and silliness which culminate in a plot twist that allows the romance to blossom. The performance got off to a slow start, with the lights dimming a little too promptly to expose an orchestra that wasn’t quite ready, and a lack of programmes shrouding the audience in mystery as to what was about to ensue. Any initial doubts were, however, quickly eradicated as the curtain finally swept away, the cast took to the stage, and the operatic extravaganza began to unfold before our eyes.
The balance of singing, dancing and acting talent possessed by the cast members really shone through in this particular performance, with the comic nature of Gilbert and Sullivan’s puns, sarcasm and at times absurd wit being captured effortlessly by the nuanced and clearly well-rehearsed interactions between the characters onstage. The atmosphere of frivolity was instigated perfectly by Rachel Ward in her role as “Buttercup”, whose extravagant costume and warmly jovial singing charmed the room and brought us all aboard the ship that made up the set design for the show. Freddie Brook’s performance of the ugly, pessimistic persona of “Deadeye Dick” was another stand-out, with exceptional charisma and expression being poured into the most comically realist characters of the opera. Eleanor Sourbutts shone in her leading role as “Josephine”, with her soaring soprano voice and subtly humorous acting style giving the entire performance an edge. Her rendition of ‘The Hours Creep on Apace’ during Act II was executed with precision and passion, capturing the whole audience in the juxtaposed ridiculousness and heartbreak of her predicament.
The slight tuning issues of the orchestra were the only element that jarred slightly during the show, with several discordant musical moments giving a strained atmosphere to the performance, and throwing the singing slightly at time. These issues, however, paled into insignificance alongside what was a polished show, and the last to be performed in the Riley Smith Hall before its impending closure for refurbishment later this year. Overall, HMS Pinafore was a triumph for Operasoc, and I came away bowled over by the amount of hard work and talent that goes into each of their performances.
Kate Ryrie, LippyMag
For an opening night, the Riley Smith Hall was remarkably noisy with even the balcony seats almost filled before Opera Society’s most recent venture, Carmen by George Bizet. The story follows the changing romantic allegiances between gypsy woman and dancer, Carmen (played by Bianca von Oppell), Don José (Callum McGregor) and Escamillo (Manuel Ojeda Cabral) in the streets and surrounding hills of Seville. From the moment the orchestra chimed in with the overture at the start of the show, the energy and typical Hispanicism was apparent, and it continued to be so for the next three hours.
Between classics such as the softly and carefully tiptoed ‘Habenera’ and the iconic and lilting ‘Toreador Song’ (which I would recommend you look up and listen to if you don’t see the show; you will recognise them), the cast acted and sang their way through the vivacious highs and lamenting lows of the central love affair. For shining moments of musical clarity and balance, credit is due to the orchestra and strong chorus, particularly at the end of act 3 where, together on stage they conjured a presence beyond their numbers. The percussion invoked the castanets and flamenco of Spain and the violins carried many of the Bizet’s most iconic melodies; someone in front of me even remarked ‘I’d heard all these songs before in cartoons but didn’t realise they were actually from an opera.’
The set, though basic (as is Opera Soc etiquette) conveyed the sense of a Spanish town well enough and provided the characters with three different locations within which to dance, brawl and shriek without distracting from the main action. One thing, however, that did divert my attention somewhat was a bin fire in the second act, which - ahem smoke machine - randomly emitted shots of smoke and instead produced a steady stream of chuckling from my row.
Reminiscent of their 2014 performances of both The Elixir of Love and Ruddigore, the chorus giggled and fawned through any potential romance, of which there was a lot. But this was countered effectively both by Carmen’s fire and independence and the strength of their choral support. Other moments of notable musical success included ‘Melons! Coupons!’ featuring Carmen, Frasquita (played by Philippa Watts) and Mercédès (played by Annalise Hughes), whose voices and movements matched the complicated rhythms and choreography of the scene, set around three crates in the centre of the stage. But the real masterpiece of the show lay in Micaëla’s (Morgana Warren-Jones) solo ‘I say that nothing can frighten me’, in which her soprano was infallible and the emotion tangible.
Two things that jarred slightly, however, was the supposed passing of an entire month with little indication of this having occurred, and the fact that I was always unsure of who to root for between Don José and Escamillo, perhaps due to the difficulty of understanding some of Escamillo’s lyrics. This did not in any way spoil the show but I did feel at times a little lost. All was forgiven though for what Cabral’s accent, being natively Spanish, brought to the show, particularly in the scene where he and Carmen processed around the stage in proper matador attire.
All in all, the combination of a strong chorus, distinct and sanguine lead characters, a proficient orchestra and the familiar arias and recurring ditties of the opera itself made for a fast-paced and memorable production. The trailer promised ‘sexy, sensual and well-performed’ and it didn’t fail to deliver.
Catherine Fleming, Scribe Magazine
Last week I was fortunate enough to experience the fantastic performance of ‘Ruddigore’ by Opera Soc. Upon first hearing of the performance I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t instantly intrigued, after all it’s just Opera! Something that I haven’t got an interest in... or so I thought. How much I was mistaken! My ignorance of the society was well and truly defeated and I can now say that their showing of ‘Ruddigore’ has left me with a complete new vision of Opera and just how fantastic it can be.
Ruddigore was brilliantly brought to life across four nights from the 7th to the 10th May in the Riley Smith Hall. Based on the Gilbert and Sullivan’s script, Opera Soc, with contributions from the Orchestra and Backstage Society, recreated the story with vivid imagination, creating a spectacular show that I dare anyone in the audience to dislike. It tells the story of Rose Maybud, a young lady from the town of Ruddigore who all the bridesmaids in the village are desperate to be wed as they’ve been denied a wedding for over 6 months. It looks as though their wish will be fulfilled when Rose meets Robin Oakapple and the pair quickly falls in love. However, Robin is not quite the man he originally seems and it turns out that he is a member of the cursed house of Murgatroyd. Following a run-in with a witch who he tried to burn at the stake, Sir Rupert Murgatroyd (Robin’s ancestor) brought a curse upon his line: all of the Barons of Ruddigore must commit one crime per day or else they perish. This leaves Robin in a difficult situation as his true identity is revealed and all of the characters are left with the trying to find a balance between avoiding the curse and having true love.
Now I’ve already admitted to being uncultured when it comes to Opera so to discover it’s so much more than the stereotypical Italian high-pitched songs is quite a revelation. This was a show full of excitement, humour and included both musical numbers satisfying for the ear and the eye. The cast all performed brilliantly with stand -out performances from all the leading cast but commendations to Emily Birsey as the young, beautiful Rose and to Freddie Brook for his convincing Robin. Also praise to David Ward for his fantastic portrayal of Sir Despard and Rachael Ward for her genius portrayal of Mad Margaret. And that’s without mentioning the incredible acting on behalf of Matt Broadey and Josh Elmore who both created utterly hilarious characters that will surely stick in the audience’s mind for a long, long time.
The other leading cast members were superb too. As were the incredibly well-rehearsed chorus of bridesmaids and ghosts who all deserve praise for their hard work and dedication that clearly helped make the show the success it is. If the performances weren’t enough the set was also visually appealing and the choreography and costumes inventive and helped create the perfect atmosphere.
All of this is without mentioning the incredible musical performance by the orchestra that really set the mood and atmosphere of the whole show. I’ve got to say I thoroughly enjoyed the whole performance and have been well and truly converted to this musical genre. I for one cannot wait to see what Opera Soc have in store for the future. Brilliant cast, crew and show all round. I’d recommend anyone to see this!
While Gaetano Donizetti only took some six weeks to compose his opera ‘L’elisir D’amore’, it took Opera Society’s production team much longer to transform the 19th-century classic into an accessible and enticing performance for the Riley Smith stage.
The opera tells the story of Nemorino (Calum Macgregor), a reserved Classics student, who longs to win the heart of studious bookworm, Adina (Sarah Calvert). In a desperate bid to stop Adina falling for the charms of former militant, Belcore (Kyle Harrison-Pope), Nemorino pins his hopes on drug-dealer Dulcamara (Sam McCagherty), who claims to own the eponymous mythical love potion.
While modern-day productions tend to update the setting to the 1950’s, this version opts to relocate the action to the Classics department of a modern university. But despite the translation to English, Donizetti’s original musical score remains unsullied. Indeed, the project was very much a labour of love for Musical Director, Ashley Jacobs, who put forward this particular opera to serve as the first of the society’s two annual performances and leads a superb orchestra.
There are notable moments throughout where the chorus and the leads combine their vocal abilities to create a musically impressive wall of sound. However, at times, the united strength of the chorus and orchestra threaten to mute the lyrically distinct verses of some lead characters. On these occasions, microphones would have helped in the understanding of narrative progression but generally the acoustic performance worked harmoniously.
Hair-raising solo performances were provided by Calvert’s Adina but the male leads also make an assured transition from their usual singing genre (regular theatre-goers will recognise some of them from productions by other performance societies). The pure tones of all of the experienced lead characters do well to characterise their individual performances in a way that is both striking and distinctive.
It is the chorus, however, that provides much of the magic on stage. It boasts a fairly new and inexperienced range of students from across subject disciplines and countries. The chorus is representative of the inclusive ethos of the society, with each member bringing their own individual caricature to the stage. None more so than Josh Elmore, whose surprising vocals and overly camp, scene-stealing performance provided much of the comic value whenever the band of singers appeared.
Much of the action and stage dynamic is not realised until the second half of the performance, which is much more confident and livelier than its plot-driven opener. The difficulty in delivering a solid acting performance whilst dealing with the demands of operatic vocals is evident, but it was a challenge overcome by a talented and committed cast.
One member of the production team who is more than experienced with university productions and the opera scene is second-time Director, Sally Stephens. She admits that she envisaged a “Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet-style transformation” of the much-loved opera and this is clearly realised in the cast’s modern dress and revised contextual backdrop. Despite this, the set itself was fairly minimal and would have benefitted from a more elaborate design to further realise Stephens’ vision and assist the opera’s modern-day translation.
The key theme that emerges from this production is that of transformation. From Nemorino’s growing stage presence following his pursuit of the ‘elixir’ to the confident performances of a previously inexperienced cast, the hard work and tenacity of all those involved in the transformative process of reimagining Donizetti’s masterpiece is plain for all to see. ‘The Elixir of Love’ provided a truly delightful concoction of stellar vocal performances and laugh-out-loud comic scenes which functions well as a light-hearted introduction to one of the lesser-known operas.
This review was originally published by Leeds Student newspaper here
I am not directly involved with the University or Union and only knew
about the production because someone was handing out flyers outside
the Grand when I was there a couple of weeks ago to see Opera North in
The Girl of the Golden West. I looked it up on the website and decided
it sounded worth seeing/hearing - and it was.
I don't know if there were others to came to see it as a result of the
flyer, but I am glad that I received it.
I saw the Elixir at the end of last year at the Royal Northern College
of Music - their student singers have all sorts of specialist whizzkid
scholarships, it was a college production by students on the verge of
professional careers, they have far more resources than you do, I am
sure, a much bigger and posher theatre and there was clearly a lot of
non-student involvement - director, producer, conductor and so on were
staff or professionals - they have lighting experts, language coaches
and all the paraphernalia of a big professional opera company- and
yes, it was very well done and I did enjoy it - I am not particularly
knowledgeable or musically educated by I enjoyed it more than a lot of
professional productions like Covent Garden or the New York Met (I
only see them in the cinema as relays) because of the enthusiasm and
passion of the performers, and the lack of star posturing.
But I enjoyed what I saw tonight even more than that - and anyway I
don't see the need to compare the two productions - both were
extremely good - so I am going to stop comparing - I just wanted to
say that I enjoyed the OperaSoc one more.
I liked your take on the opera - it was fresh and I thought it worked
well - it was an interesting approach to have them as students.
The chorus were very lively, they sang and acted well - there were
some quite funny touches from one or two of them.
All the singers in the principal roles acted and sang very well. To
me, they all had nice voices and they sang with passion and
conviction. I suppose you would expect that from musicians/music
students and I see that the three males singers are studying music, (though Calum Macgregor, according to the programme, has not sung in
opera before)and so must have had some training, I expect. The two
young women aren't music students.
I thought Sarah Calvert had a really nice voice ( I have already said
that I thought all the singers had) and sang very well. It is a
slightly odd role because she seems a bit of dark horse and even
rather cruel in the way she behaves - Sarah acted it with innocence
and she was believable. She sang her arias well.
Annalise Hughes who played Gianetta was lively and sang her part very
clearly and well.
But I think this particular opera favours the male singers more in the
parts that were written for them.
Sam McCagherty has a good strong voice and sang and acted the part of
the conman in a very mature way. The duet with Adina was done very
well by both of them. He was an entirely believable Dulcamara and also
played him in quite a sympathetic and likeable way.
Kyle Harrison-Pope also played Belcore in a likeable way, - I had
always thought he was a bit of a pompous, self- preening, vain,
bullying bastard - not Kyle himself, I hasten to add, (I am sure he is
not, but I do not know him) the character, I mean, but there was quite
an ambiguous air about the way Kyle played him - that made it more
interesting than just a sort of thick, womanising soldier - Belcore's
presence on stage was powerful and attractive, and he wasn't someone
you were able to dislike, so that made an interesting balance with
Nemorino - such that Adina is not just flirting with Belcore to
provoke Nemorino but is also drawn to Belcore - and one can see why.
The singer has a powerful voice and he sang in a masterly way. It was
a very exciting and powerful performance from a young man.
It was also a powerful performance from Calum Macgregor. He really
does have a beautiful voice, very lyrical and very passionate voice. I
liked the idea of his being a bit of a nerd - and it was very
interesting that Adina really starts to want him when he is fancied by
all the young women and at that point turns into someone to rival
Belcore in his appeal. He acted it well and I thought he sang his part
with real feeling - the duet between him and Belcore was, I think, the
first time the audience allowed itself to clap, and rightly so, I
Yes all in all, it was done with real feeling and commitment. I
haven't mentioned the orchestra, but they were essential of course and
played really well. And I know lots of other people put work into it:
the result was a performance/production that was really worth coming
to see. I was very impressed, but more importantly I wasn't bored -
quite often at professional performances I think, oh yes this is no
doubt of the highest standard, but there is no spark. There were
plenty of sparks tonight.
My late father imparted very few words of advice to me, but he did impart one aphorism: one should never sit through any spectacle where one is not allowed to drink or throw things at the stage/orchestra/pitch. Although this belief resulted in a lifetime ban from the Emirates Stadium and every single one of my school plays, having sat through one too many god awful amateur productions myself, I must concede that there’s a certain amount of value in his words. So upon being required to review a university opera in a space which prohibits alcohol, I was gearing up for a repeat of what was darkly referred to in my family as ‘The Third Form Macbeth Incident.’
Opera these days is generally regarded by most with ignorance, if not outright suspicion. Certainly, the Leeds Opera Society made a bold move in choosing a rather obscure, if not esoteric, burlesque opera, The Dragon of Wantley. Written in 1737 by John Frederick Lampe as a riposte to the rather formulaic convention of operas staged in London by the likes of Handel, the opera tells of a small village in Rotherham which, terrorised by the eponymous wyvern, turns to a drunken knight for aid, throwing in the promise of a night with the town’s prettiest young maiden as an incentive. Naturally, of course, the knight has a mistress in tow, unhappy with her new rival. It’s an opera which has, for whatever reason, been largely forgotten, eclipsed by the majesty of Mozart, the exquisiteness of Puccini and the god-awful ubiquity of Gilbert and Sullivan. But in 2013, the dragon has been roused.
The musicality was pulled off with the skill and care which one would expect from a university with such a high musical pedigree, but this is all the more remarkable given the fact that the chorus is not auditioned and made up largely of students from outside of the music department. For this, credit must go to the performers, who clearly enjoyed what they were doing, but particularly to the direction of Chris Roberts, a Ph.D. student who demonstrated a calm and composed control of proceedings which will no doubt stand him in excellent stead for a future career in music. Stagecraft was similarly well pulled off with superb costumes, a generally excellent enthusiasm from the performers and a solid use of limited space and resources. The generally conservative nature of the staging was interspersed with surreal nods to pantomime and popular culture, a wise move which offset the sometimes staid nature of the baroque score and made up for original jokes and references which, although familiar to an eighteenth century audience, would prove anachronistic in any modern staging.
Any show lives or dies by its principle performers, and The Dragon of Wantley was fortunate to boast a small but strong group of leads. Particular credit must go to Chris Pelly as Moore the Knight, demonstrating not only a superb musical talent but also an intuitive grasp of comic timing and expression. Also notable was Bianca von Oppell, whose subtle performance was backed up by a wonderful voice which belied her young age. But a personal highlight would have to be the belated arrival of the rather camp (and Teutonic!) dragon, who stole the show with a mincing, pouting, and altogether wonderfully silly delivery, and a demise which would make Sean Bean proud.
This was not a show without its flaws. Baroque music is often criticised for its repetitive nature, and certain parts of this show, particularly the closing of the first act, would have benefited from being significantly shortened. Fortunately the skill of the performers neutralised any acute feelings of tedium, but any subsequent staging would require a red pen and cuts. The humour, although generally well executed, very occasionally descended into puerility, an unnecessary reminder that this otherwise highly professional production was being staged by students. Furthermore, the choice of Monty Pythonesque coconut horses, although a source of mirth to the most in the audience, struck me as slightly too tacked on to be convincing; the show itself was strong enough to manage without a reference which has become, frankly, overdone. But these, I must stress, are peripheral gripes which should not detract from an otherwise excellent performance.
Overall I must credit the Opera Society with staging a performance which was not only outstanding musically but also nicely staged. The show’s director, Claudia Chapman, can regard this as a job well done in reviving a forgotten piece of operatic history in a competent and composed manner, which, without taking itself too seriously, managed to entertain a young reviewer with the tolerance of an angry dragon, the constitution of a drunken knight and the irritability of a jilted mistress. Nice one, chaps.
Opera may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but LUU OperaSoc are trying to change minds on that front, one show at a time. After a highly successful first show of “Cinderella” earlier this year, they are at it again with “The Dragon of Wantley”. With audience comments such as “Delightfully silly, and a very high standard of performance” it’s not one to miss.
The show is based on the classic tale of a village terrorised by a dragon, and the brave knight who slays it to win a fair maiden. However, this is a story with a twist - the knight is a drunkard who already has a lady-love, the village is populated by an interesting array of characters (and at times animals) and the dragon...well, we don’t want to spoil the fun for anyone still hoping to catch the show.
Directed by Claudia Chapman, a second year music student who took one of the starring roles in “Cinderella”, this baroque opera is given a panto spin topped off with some brilliant references to the ever great Monty Python. The principles carry the show wonderfully, with the chemistry between Moore (Chris Pelly) and Margery (Bianca Von Oppell) lighting up the stage. OperaSoc relies on their non auditioned chorus, who not only add character to the group scenes, but who also perform the complex music to perfection despite many of them coming from non-musical backgrounds.
The show is supported by a live orchestra, led by MD Chris Roberts, winner of NCEM Young Composer of the Year Award in 2012. They provide a skilled accompaniment to the action on stage, and are a big part of what makes this show so enjoyable - finding a group interested in performing baroque operas such as this one can be challenging, but under the instruction of Chris the music comes to life. As usual, LUU Backstage Society have also given their all, bringing some fantastic set and wonderful lighting to top the show off.
Overall it’s hard to rate this show as anything less than 5 stars. For those who enjoy opera already, this is a wonderful opportunity to see a baroque piece in all its glory. For those who’d prefer a light introduction this is a show full of laughs and with an easy-to-follow and fun plot. The show opened on Wednesday 24th and runs until Saturday 27th of April, tickets are £5 for students, or £7 for non-students.