9th March 2018

Review: A Fight at the Opera

Anuli Changa reviews Music Society’s spectacular night of opera on the themes of war and conflict
Review: A Fight at the Opera
Photo: Virginia Saul

Manchester University Music Society (MUMS) amazed with their evening of opera in the Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall. The first half of the performance followed themes of war: this included selected scenes from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Britten’s War Requiem, and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.

Alongside this was the new opera, Not On The List, written in 2017 by Manchester University alumnus James Keirle. Not On The List was a beautiful new piece based on true events, capturing the different ways people are trapped in war zones – not only the refugees but the guards themselves, trapped by fences both physical and metaphorical.

This whole half was carried by an impressive ensemble and talented solos. Sarah Young was very convincing as ‘The Mother’ searching for her son, who is not on the guard’s list. Dominic Skingle was powerful as ‘The Guard’, managing to capture both the authority of the character and his internal struggle against confinement.

Molly Toolan-Kerr as ‘The Journalist’ added another dimension to the opera, her desperation to depict the ‘real’ refugees alongside the mother’s initial suspicion that the journalist is there to take superficial photos for her own gain.

The wonderful orchestra was led by musical director Hugh Morris. With many gorgeous and musically exposed moments for both the singers and musicians, Not On The List was a delight of talent.

Beautiful and powerful contemporary choreography by director Eleanor Lang complimented Not On The List without detracting from the beauty of the piece. This new piece comes carried a great poignancy at a time of great unrest and multiple refugee crises across the world, Not On The List captured the trauma and injustice beauty impeccably.

The first half of the opera ended with exuberant applause and saw director Eleanor Lang and composer James Keirle joining the cast on stage.

Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas was the second half of the show in its re-imagined form by director/choreographer Madeleine Brooks and musical director Robin Wallington. The mythical queen Dido is now a teenage schoolgirl who falls in love with schoolboy Aeneas.

Zoe Jackson as Dido was the standout performance, playing beautifully opposite Helena Stanway’s angelic Belinda and Hugh Beckwith’s powerful Aeneas. A sailor scene which became a group of drunken schoolboys was a hilarious and much needed comic relief.

Zahid Siddiqui was amusing and haunting as the Head Sorceress to her two ‘mean girls’ witches, Lucy Scott and Christina Bell, who were both captivating with beautiful harmonies. Scheming to break Dido and Aeneas apart, they succeed and Dido kills herself in a heartbreaking scene whilst the entire ensemble watches on.

Another inventive touch by Brooks was to bring in Northern Ballet School dancers and choreograph short interval routines that fit the music beautifully, answering and following each other, making each scene change a spectacle. The strength of the ensemble and its leads together with the choreography made for an outstanding performance.

A Fight at the Opera was a delightful and thought-provoking evening accompanied by an important interval collection for A Drop in the Ocean (Dråpen i Havet) a Norwegian humanitarian non-profit aiding refugees.

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