The latest Music Society (MUMS) ‘Night at the Opera’ was a great success. Two short operas were showcased — Ravel’s L’enfant et les Sortileges and Weir’s Armida, the latter of which was the first staged premiere of the work by the notable Queen’s musician.
L’enfant et les Sortileges was directed well by Sophie Crawford and Hugh Morris. A very complex and relatively fast paced opera that followed the unlikely adventure of an orphan after a bedtime story spirals out of control, the obscure plot was made more accessible by the projection and meticulous diction exhibited by the majority of the cast. The orchestral performances for both operas were sensitive, dealing masterly with the difficult passages and colouring the already vivid scores.
Freya Parry’s performance as Fire was particularly strong. This part was extremely challenging in it contrasting registers and vocal runs, all of which Parry delivered with impressive fluidity. The light versatility of her voice was also displayed in her brief but haunting role as the Screech Owl in the woods scene.
Another stand out performance was that of Hebe Church, especially in her roles as the white cat and Shepherdess. Church’s beautifully clear voice went hand in hand with her informed acting, lending her already authoritative presence on stage a gentle quality.
This being said, a greater continuity in costume and overall design might have been beneficial to the understanding of the complex plot but it was, overall, an admirable attempt at Ravel’s mischievous score.
After the interval, the audience re-entered the Cosmo hall to find it transformed into a glittering city scape, the backdrop for Armida. A convincing army tent to the left of the stage facilitated the changes of location originally intended for the more adaptable medium of TV.
Armida, based loosely on the epic poem La Gerusalemme Liberate, followed the journey of the titular character, a pacifist news reporter, who travels into the world of civil war and falls in love with the poetic Rinaldo.
Katie Emmanuel was outstanding in both her portrayal of Armida and her vocal quality. Emmanuel’s voice soared over the masculine chorus parts, a plea of peace in the darkness of contemporary warfare. Zahid Siddiqui’s performance as Rinaldo counter-acted this perfectly, exhibiting accomplished acting and a mature tenor voice.
Laura Rushworth as Ms Pescado and Johnny Hill as Goffredo were also notable in their skilful vocality. Both had rich tones well suited to their characters and exhibited a good level of projection.
The male ensemble worked together in excellent harmony (both vocally and physically) and provided great entertainment in the particularly well thought out comedic moments. An especially commendable example of this was in the final scene where the soldiers planted flowers, symbolic of restoration and growth after the destruction of war. The soldiers enthusiasm to feature in the shot of the camera was not only entertaining, but it also provided a darker note indicative of the facade of peace and happiness contemporary society is so partial to display.
Fundamentally, Armida’s beautiful score was done justice by both the masterful performances of the productions talented cast and the informed direction of Emily Tandy.