English Touring Opera at the Hackney Empire

By Davies, Margaret | Musical Opinion, May/June 2008 | Go to article overview

English Touring Opera at the Hackney Empire


Davies, Margaret, Musical Opinion


Not content with solving the logistics of touring any opera production to a dozen and more venues the length and breadth of the country, with all the stresses and strains it puts on people and equipment ETO's General Director James Conway ambitiously increased its repertory for the Spring Season to three works, one each from the 18th, 19th and 20th-Centuries. They opened as usual at the welcoming Hackney Empire on 13 March with Donizetti's bel canto melodrama Anne Bolena.

English history of the Tudor period inspired more than one of the composer's librettists to flights of fantasy; and Felice Romani let his imagination run riot over the downfall of Anne Boleyn and the rise of Jane Seymour and Henry VIII's methods of achieving his own ends. If Donizetti's score does not reach the musical heights of his later Maria Stuarda, a previous ETO success, it offers rewarding roles to the two Queens.

Anne Boleyn, who commands sympathy for her plight as the discarded wife, was characterised with mettle by the soprano Julie Unwin; it is a taxing vocal assignment to which she proved more than equal, most notably in the climactic solo before her execution. Her rival, the guilt-ridden Jane Seymour, provides acting scope for the mezzo Julia Riley and a vehicle for her focused, strongly projected singing. After a low-key start Riccardo Simonetti expanded vocally into the skin of Henry VIII. Luciano Botelho sang well as Percy, as did Serena Kay as Smeton. James Conway's taut direction of the singers and Michael Lloyd's well-paced conducting of the ETO Orchestra extracted the maximum drama from the score.

Soutra Gilmour's two-tier set, designed to accommodate all three operas in varying guises, was more functional than evocative in this one, but her rich-toned costumes were handsome and in period.

Susanna

On the following night the set was transformed into Appalachian Tennessee, a sunny background for Carlisle Floyd's Susanna, a disturbing, Apocryphal-inspired story of a narrow-minded religious community ruled by its elders and a, visiting preacher who betrays his calling by raping an innocent girl. …

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