TEMPTATIONS: A New Chamber Opera

Thu 23rd – Fri 24th January 2014

reviews

Leo Doulton

at 01:32 on 24th Jan 2014

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Randle’s operatic premiere presents a sublime musical environment, well realised by an accomplished student cast. However, despite their skills, the triumph is certainly first and foremost that of the composer of this superb chamber opera.

From the first note of the overture to the closing resonance of a glass, the audience were drawn into a marvellous soundscape reminiscent of some of Britten’s finest work. Although the harmonies were often unusual, they were never unpleasant and instead fitted into a well-formed whole. Skilled combinations of the small orchestra and cast resulted in an evocative work that holds great promise for the future. She demonstrated an impressive wide range of styles to create her world, from the tranquillity of the opening to the drama of the rejection of Satan and the closing hymn. Compositionally, it is only regrettable that it is just 25 minutes.

The libretto is taken from Guite’s sonnets, and as poems they are impressive although perhaps not wholly suitable for operatic adaptation. One wonders if addressing modern concerns about wealth distribution through a text that is reminiscent of an old-fashioned religious morality play is appropriate to the times. However, Randle’s setting of Guite’s work elevates it beyond issues of anachronism. It becomes a story considering these themes in its own right, rather than due to religion. The six roles are fashioned well, particularly Satan and the Narrator.

The youthful cast gave convincing performances, with their well sung and well-pronounced English text. Special mention should go to James Robinson’s Narrator, while Henry Hawkesworth’s Christ was impressively acted throughout, followed by his rich voice. The Three Israelites worked together with skill, with pleasing solo moments. Xavier Hetherington as Satan displayed a marvellous physicality, but his generally good singing was slightly marred by occasional strains in his voice. The orchestra added another fine touch, although the wind section was lacking at times.

The sparse production was effective in contrasting the poverty-stricken Israelites and the suffering Christ with the handsomely moustached and well-dressed Satan. It was a great shame that the venue was not better suited to operatic performances. At times one yearned for the cast to have more space as the crowded stage blocked free movement. Conversations could be overheard outside, and the orchestra’s unfortunate position in the extreme right of the auditorium meant that the singers were forced to visibly glance over to the conductor, which detracted from otherwise accomplished performances. The larger venue for the Friday performance should overcome both of these issues, however. It is regrettable that it is not the location for the press night.

Where the credit lies is obvious. At the end Randle was met with wild enthusiasm, and was forced to return to the stage for a second bow. This was undoubtedly well deserved. Even without the resources for a better-trained cast and orchestra and a more suitable venue, and despite the lack of a suitable libretto, her compositional skills shone through to create an evocative, intimate and yet majestic chamber opera. It remains to be seen what she can do with a larger work with a specially written text and more expressive opportunities, but should the opportunity to hear future attempts present itself, seize it. With more experience and opportunities to develop her distinctive and alluring style, Randle’s operas should become an even more tempting event.

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