Sunday, July 20, 2008

Rigoletto in the rain

Four intrepid Millbrookians trekked from their home comforts on Friday last to attend the New Devon Opera's open air performance of Verdi's Rigoletto. Seen above are Dong, Shazzerooneypoos and Mrs The Millbrooker, wrapped up nice and warm against the autumnal chill, marching purposefully through the grandeur of The Royal William Yard for the performance.

Actually, it was more than four because we unexpectedly bumped into Peter & Nicky who were also taking in their ration of culture.

So - cast your mind back to last week. Perhaps even to Thursday, which was a reasonably pleasant day with spells of sunshine. Then advance slightly to the grey, miserable, windy pile of doggy doos that the weather turned into for our adventure into open air opera land. You may recall that Saturday was a quite pleasant, mild and occasionally sunny day as well. I think we may have a Jonah in our midst.

Luckily, however, despite warnings in the publicity material that the show would go on whatever the weather, the opera company decided to hold the performance indoors; in the New Cooperage building to be precise:
To be fair this had nothing to do with the weather, apparently the acoustics in the lawned area of the Yard just weren't up the job; so hasty re-jigging of the set and performance space had to be sorted out in double quick time.

As we'd arrived complete with picnic tea, we were pleased to note that tables inside the New Cooperage had been thoughtfully provided for exactly this purpose.

Dong had provided a bottle of his very yummy Gran Reserva Rioja, which disappeared with many an appreciative slurp; Mrs The Millbrooker and I stumped up some slightly cheaper (but pretty decent) stuff as well, and Mrs The Millbrooker had put together a grand spread of sarnies and nibbly things for our high cultured repast.

Slightly less pleasingly, we'd paid an extra fiver to have seating provided for the outdoor performance (as opposed to bringing our own) only to find that as the venue was now inside, everyone had seating provided whether paid for or not. We are chasing this one up - I'll let you know how we get on. This is a minor gripe - we'll move on in the narrative of the evening.

There are very few advantages to being partially sighted, but it can help in securing a decent seat in an auditorium where there aren't any numbered seats. Mrs The Millbrooker did her tremendous looking after me thing and pointed out my white stick to the organisers, explaining that if I had to sit anywhere other than the front, my enjoyment could be severely curtailed. The organisers eagerly offered help (well done them) and we were allowed to bagsy four seats in the second row before anyone else even got in. It's good to know that when you ask, sometimes you can get what you need.

To the opera itself: this production is set in 1930s Italy, with the Duke of Mantua being portrayed as Il Duce himself.

It's a spare and spartan set, as is to be expected in a touring production of this nature, and none the worse for that. I often feel that shows of any nature are over produced and overly technical: if you can't produce the goods in the back room of a pub with a single light bulb - you can't produce them at all. Here the lack of technical wizardry and almost bare stage means that the music becomes the entire centre of focus, surely the whole point of opera.

And these guys can certainly produce the goods.

Opera is a faintly ridiculous art form at the best of times, but here the New Devon people ride over this with excellent casting. Not only are all the principals the owners of fine voices, but they look the part too. James Hancock in the title role looks like a wounded soldier and conveys the downfall of the flawed Rigoletto with a nicely light touch, only occasionally slipping into typical operatic overacting. James Heath takes the role of Il Duce; his expansive tenor handling the challenges of La Donna e Mobile and his other arias whilst performing energetically and convincingly.

The undoubted star, though, was Debra Morley as Rigoletto's daughter, Gilda. What a voice. Seemingly effortless, she reaches the high notes and fills the theatre with her presence. Dong said her singing made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. I thought her singing made all sorts of things stand up. Simply magical.

So - The New Devon Opera. We'll be going again - a great evening, enjoyed by all. Next season they're doing La Boheme, in which Mimi takes about four hours to die whilst still singing beautifully. Similar, in a way, to Gilda still hitting the high notes after being stabbed in the chest and spending some time tied up in a sack. As I said; opera - faintly ridiculous. But oh so good.

And now the Millbrook "La Donna e Mobile"- altogether now:

"Dong is immobilised.

He drank the cellar dry.

Shazzer's out cold with him.

She has been at the gin"

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