fri 24/05/2024

Prom 11: Fiddler on the Roof, Grange Park Opera | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 11: Fiddler on the Roof, Grange Park Opera

Prom 11: Fiddler on the Roof, Grange Park Opera

Bryn Terfel's effortless Tevye hampered by amplification as the shtetl musical hits the Proms

Cholly good: Bryn Terfel joins the line in Lucy Burge's effective choreographyAll images by Chris Christodoulou

Stop miking Bryn Terfel. Stop over-miking musicals; the show voices in a hybrid cast don’t need much. Too much ruined English National Opera’s recent Sweeney Todd, and in this Proms adaptation of Grange Park Opera’s summer crowd-pleaser it sent the voices ricocheting around the Albert Hall, making mush of the words and stridency of the few belt-it-out moments.

It also made it hard to assess what seemed like a resourceful staging of a baggy-monster musical with four or five great songs, no masterpiece of musical theatre (unlike My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof’s near-contemporary).

The idea of a shtetl show wasn’t at all a bad idea, and goes some way to accounting for Fiddler on the Roof’s enormous popularity on Broadway, where it ran for over seven years and over 3,000 performances. But Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick never found a meaningful way of binding together the Sholem Aleichem tales they selected. Despite the constant presence of a mournful fiddler (for Grange Park, Houcheng Kian, excellent), courtesy of Chagall, who hated the musical, and the various refrains of the opening number “Tradition” as that very supposed virtue falls apart, there’s no music for the real emotional core of the piece, or to lead the action forward, least of all in the two piecemeal finales.

Best is the klezmer style that gives a special flavour to ensemble chutzpah and an almost painful bittersweet quality, especially wistful in "Sunrise, Sunset" and beautifully underlined by David Charles Abell’s sensitive sway over an often luminous BBC Concert Orchestra (the miking at least doesn't harm them as it did the Britten Sinfonia in the turkey of last year's Proms, the horrible Rufus Wainwright late-night indulgence). Abell has tracked down Don Walker’s long-lost original orchestrations, with soulful roles for accordion, mandolin and lute; it’s not surprising if the score occasionally joins hand with Shostakovich in Jewish folk poetic mood.

Bryn Terfel and Janet Fullerlove in Proms Fiddler on the RoofIs the character of Tevye, the philosophical and (up to a point) adaptable milkman, enough to hold the show together? People used to think Chaim Topol did just that, though I found his routines cheesy when he returned to the role in London in 1983 (and I only ever got halfway through the film). Terfel's natural charisma and effortlessly dominating figure kept it all believably low-key except for the explosions of anger and tearful emotion. He phrased every number with originality, vocal colour – much as the amplification threatened to flatten it out – and suavity when needed; who thought “If I Were A Rich Man” could have sounded this fresh?

Grange Park's supporting cast was good: Janet Fullerlove as the matriarch (pictured above with Terfel) brought much-needed pathos to her evasive answers in one of the only two numbers to stand out in Act Two, Tevye’s question “Do You Love Me?”, and Katie Hall struck the right note of pathos in the other, as the second of the five daughters to make her own marriage choice leaves to join her activist husband in Siberia. Jordan Simon Pollard as said idealist also managed to make something of one of the more anodyne numbers. The worst was an interminable scene in which Tevye fakes a nightmare to persuade his wife that another daughter should marry her beloved tailor and not the old butcher; it was mostly the miking’s fault if not a word could be made out of the two ghost-women in this narrative.Dance routine in Proms Fiddler on the Roof

Other set-pieces worked better, thanks mostly to the superb negotiation of the space in front of the orchestra and dance routines (one pictured above) from the ever-dependable Lucy Burge, with just the right degree of Jewish and Russian nationalist traditional steps (Burge didn'tget a biography in the programme; nor did the original director Antony McDonald, though there was one for the Proms stager Peter Relton). At moments like this the spirits soared, but Fiddler on the Roof is too much a work of fits and starts for the magic to last for long. Bring back Grange Park Opera to the Proms, bring Garsington and Longborough too, but mike-free.

There’s no music for the real emotional core of the piece, or to lead the action forward, least of all in the two piecemeal finales


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article


I completely agree about the miking. This production genuinely didn't need it. Admittedly I am a huge fan of Bryn Terfel, but I thought he was absolutely terrific as Tevye - and I have seen both Topol and Henry Goodman play the role. Excellent supporting performances as well. On a separate but related note, I would add that I am staggered how many audience members fail to return for the second part of operas/concerts/plays these days. There were definitely gaps all over the hall last night - whatever happened to people sitting it out, even if they're not enjoying it? Especially given that the stalls seats were something like £75,

I think you can blame the hopeless structure of the first act for that. Other musicals like Sweeney Todd hold the attention for just as long. I overheard comments like 'it was easier to stay awake during the second act' - even though it has far fewer good songs than the first.

Still curious to know if it sounded any better on the radio. I'll give it a listen.


Initially I was aware of the miking but soon was so engrossed in a marvellous performance I forgot. It is a show, not an opera, so you need to bear that in mind. I've loved Fiddler since I saw Topol in the original London show in the 60s. Bryn lived up to that and then some. Simply wonderful, as expected. The show is structured poorly. A long first half and a desperate queue for the toilets! It's still one of the finest in show history and I'm so pleased to have seen it from the stalls last night.

I disagree about the miking, Without amplification the dialogue would simply not have been audible acoustically in this vast venue (Particularly in the choir seats behind the stage and the circle/gallery areas with a packed audience) The acoustic reflections are notorious in this venue making it very poor for the spoken word. I heard every word from where I was sitting (Circle) and it was a good balance!

As the first paragraph implied, it was a question of degree. For some operas like Carmen or The Magic Flute the dialogue can be discreetly miked while the singing is left alone. That could have worked here. Anyway, apart from Bryn they were still most of them overprojecting the dialogue which came across - I'm told - very artificially on the radio. It was ear-piercing from where I was sitting. Less miking, more naturalistic delivery would have been the answer.

The first line of your review is "Stop micing Bryn Terfel" which implies you'd rather there were no microphones at all. As large as Bryn's voice is, it wouldn't overcome the orchestra in the 5,500 seater venue. I have to say I thought the vocal balance was perfect, certainly not too much, and last night saw what I thought what was one of the best musical productions I have ever seen in that notoriously difficult venue.

I've suggested the compromise; ignore it if you like. But my final word would be that if Terfel sounded resplendent two years ago against a much bigger orchestra in the Barenboim Ring, he wouldn't have much of a problem unmiked here. As for dialogue, I don't remember anyone having a problem when Mackerras conducted an immortal G&S Patience at the Proms. I repeat: the sound almost made the ears bleed in the stalls and Arena.

I love Fiddler on the Roof. Perhaps not as much as My Fair Lady or Kiss me Kate. But the music is great and the humour, essentially Jewish humour, is a fundamental part of its attraction. This humour was largely lost in this production. I suspect because of the acoustic limitations of the Royal Albert Hall.

One of the best shows I've seen in a long time. Not sure where your seat was, but in the stalls the balance was good and the idea that this would have worked unmiked is a bit naive. In this wonderful hall I've (not) heard big orchestras. They simply disappeared in space. Bryn, by the way, was brilliant. Show me another opera singer who could deliver dialogue like a proper actor and dance up such a storm. I won't even start about the singing. His versatility is unique and totally rocks.

i found the amplification intrusive and made the singing uncomfortably loud. It wasn't necessary and I agree that it could have been possible to amplify the speech ( less than they did) without amplifying the singing. I thought the staging and dancing were terrific and overall I enjoyed it very much. Bryn was a natural as Tevye.

An excellent evening's entertainment. We were sitting on front row circle seats and the sound was not loud or unbalanced. My wife attended the masterclass arranged earlier at the Royal College of Music opposite the RAH, where it was explained that the singers were told not to over-stress their Jewish dialect in their singing! So this is where it deviated from the film and the Tevye performance by Topol. Nevertheless it worked very well.

Zzzz I left during Act 1 as I was SO appalled at the interminable dialogue - at one point I clocked 15 minutes of talking between musical numbers..... no one got any stage or editing skills ? It isn't Wagner!

You booked for Fiddler on the Roof? What were you expecting.

so glad to have missed ir it belongs to Broadway/West End- not the proms

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters