fri 30/10/2020

Heart's Delight, Opera Holland Park review - a classy hour of operetta pops | reviews, news & interviews

Heart's Delight, Opera Holland Park review - a classy hour of operetta pops

Heart's Delight, Opera Holland Park review - a classy hour of operetta pops

Five fine singers and a small orchestra deliver hits at a high level

Cooling airs for a hot summer's evening at Holland ParkAll images by Ali Wright for OHP

Nostalgia of all kinds played a part in this summer evening’s divertissement. Some audience members were probably remembering when operetta held a greater sentimental sway than it does now; many would have been thinking of the full Opera Holland Park seasons – a proper theatre with raised seating, covered stagings, full orchestra and chorus – on what was now the bare terraced spot in front of the semi-derelict house.

Nostalgia of all kinds played a part in this summer evening’s divertissement. Some audience members were probably remembering when operetta held a greater sentimental sway than it does now; many would have been thinking of the full Opera Holland Park seasons – a proper theatre with raised seating, covered stagings, full orchestra and chorus – on what was now the bare terraced spot in front of the semi-derelict house. I was casting back in my mind to the blissful haven the park was in the spring, a necessary restorative on lockdown afternoon bike-rides and walks, and further to childhood Sunday afternoons in Eastbourne's bandstand, a favourite of my father, when if there were singers to join the brass and wind, they would deliver exactly the kind of pops we heard last night. They would not, though, have been as fine as these five stars, peerless across the board.

Sublimity came first: the Act One Quintet from Mozart’s The Magic Flute – qualifying, as a “sung play”. When you haven’t heard a live voice for five months, the impact of five in perfect harmony singing about the possibilities of human happiness represented by that eponymous musical symbol is liable to bring tears to the eyes. And it did, especially as complemented by the woodwind of a small but expert City of London Sinfonia group under John Andrews (solo strings wrought special magic later, especially in the Merry Widow waltz). The presentation was relaxed and school of less-is-more, though no-one gets laughs more easily and naturally than G&S supremo John Savournin; the Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare Song from Iolanthe was a model of deft economy in suggestive hand gestures as well as the necessary clarity of diction. The Pirates of Penzance Policeman, with hushed refrains only invited from the audience, had a word or two to say about the chore of trying to enforce current restrictions in the second verse. Robert Murray and John Savournin at Opera Holland ParkHis French counterparts shared the limelight in Offenbach’s Gendarmes’ Duet, with fruity batons as the simple sight gag. Robert Murray is a classy lyric tenor, and just about pulled off Lehár’s schmaltzy “You are my heart’s delight” – the soupy orchestration here needs a big band, perhaps - but he can do the comedy too (Murray and Savournin with Andrews and CLS players pictured above).

Full marks to all for not resorting to mikes, but this is a tricky space to work, and widespread seating to keep the right social distances meant those of us on the flanks were not going to catch everything perfectly. From the far left side, Fflur Wyn’s elegant “Vilja-Lied” from The Merry Widow only really surfaced above the stave, though her soaring is always perfection itself. Alison Langer was nearer to us for a Fledermaus “Laughing Song” that was spot-on in inflection, bright tone and acting-out.  Joined by Yvonne Howard – playing The Mikado’s Pitti-Sing as well as Katisha – their Three Little Maids were stuck in home schooling (pictured below), eventually joined by Savournin as would-be master for the ensuing quartet. Fflur Wyn, Alison Langer and Yvonne Howard at Opera Holland ParkNothing was routine. Even the ubiquitous Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffmann floated singularly on the not-yet-cool evening air, spotlighting instrumental solos and vocal bloom, with a final flight of five parakeets overhead to follow the aerial ballet of multiple distant seagulls in the Lehár waltz-dream. All hail to the resourcefulness of Opera Holland Park’s James Clutton, Andrews and the singers and players for being able to put this together so swiftly following the lifting of restrictions on outdoor events. I suggest that college singers and instrumentalists might put something like this together too, given their adaptability in difficult times. Sadly the BBC Proms, being a larger organization, hasn’t been able to do the same outdoors; we will just have to wait for the livestreams starting at the end of August. Meanwhile there’s another OHP special tonight, firing off some of the bigger operatic guns. theartsdesk’s Boyd Tonkin will be there to report on it.

When you haven’t heard a live singer for five months, the impact of five in perfect harmony can bring tears to the eyes

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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It was indeed an enjoyable evening and lovely to be back at OHP. A tiny point: Yvonne Howard sang Pitti-Sing in Three Little Maids and So please you Sir we much regret. Alison Langer sang Peep-Bo.

Corrected, with thanks.

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