Magazine article The Spectator

One-Night Stands

Magazine article The Spectator

One-Night Stands

Article excerpt

Cambridge is hardly an operatic centre, but every now and again, with the renovated Arts Theatre, and especially with visits from English Touring Opera, that miraculous organisation for making a little go a long way, something exciting happens on that front.

This year ETO put on, for one night, a performance of Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe, the culmination of only one week's work by its Summer School in Ely. The music director, the greatly gifted Andrew Greenwood whose Fidelio earlier in the season was such an inspiration, was in charge of proceedings. He conducted the hyper-active pianist Elizabeth Rowe, who made us hardly miss the orchestra, such was her energy and ability to disguise the incessant tremolandi she had to spend the evening playing; and her cantabile tone was a treat that made up for the missing soaring violins, in fact made the score rather less sticky; the three main roles, which were taken by professionals; and the Summer School class, some of whom were in their seventies. The intrinsic satisfactoriness of the evening apart, it was especially heartening not to have art in the service of sociability, that once-pervasive feature of every level of English operatic life which was just the reverse, heartbreaking.

Baby Doe has hardly thrived since its first performance in Colorado in 1956. That revealed the need for some revisions, but the brilliant librettist John Latouche died after adding a scene which the ETO omitted, and an aria for Baby Doe which they included. Beverly Sills sang Baby Doe at the New York City Opera in 1958, there was a recording, long since vanished. Baby Doe was done by University College Opera two years ago, with the same two woman principals as we had in Cambridge. The central figure of the work, Horace Tabor the speculator, was taken by Olafur Kjartan Sigurdarson, an Icelander with a formidable presence and a quite powerful voice, which will grow in size. In the opera's final scene, when Tabor's life has disintegrated, apart from the tarty Baby Doe whom he divorced his first wife, Augusta -- straight out of middle-period

Ibsen - to marry, Sigurdarson performed that dangerous tempting role, a despairing drunk, with unnerving intensity. There were endearing gasps from the audience. Over his dying body Regina Nathan, whose. voice had sometimes during the earlier parts of the work shown a tendency to spread and get unwieldily loud, sang a lullaby which I wish I had illegally recorded. It is wonderful music, the finest in an opera which is full of good, if simple things. The first Mrs Tabor was taken by the Dutch Klara Uleman, another strong performer. …

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