Thursday, 29 November 2018

Clyst Valley Choral Society "Messiah" St Margaret's Church Topsham Saturday 17 November Holy Trinity Church Exmouth Sunday 18 November 2018

Clyst Valley Choral Society
St Margaret's Topsham & Holy Trinity Exmouth
Saturday 17 November & Sunday 18 November
(Trumpet: Chris Gould)

Clyst Valley Choral Society celebrated their Fiftieth Anniversary in style last week with two performances of the baroque masterpiece "Messiah" by Georg Friderick Handel.

Paul Stock was conducting and, having celebrated his own Twentieth Anniversary as Musical Director, was sporting the turquoise cuff-links presented to him by the choir as a token of their appreciation.

The orchestra played magnificently and first vioilinist Chris Gould, as always, rose to the occasion by playing the trumpet parts as well. Swelling that sound were the powerful bass trombone and timpani of Ben Lund-Conlon. Organ accompaniment was provided by Mark Perry, who also opened the singing with the portentous words, "Comfort ye my People" and the resounding tenor aria, "Ev'ry Valley shall be Exhalted".

Other tenor recitatives and arias were taken on magnificently by Jason Bomford, including a beautiful countertenor version of "Behold a Virgin shall Conceive". Mark descended from the organ loft again the second half to perform "Thou Shalt Break Them" with great aplomb. Janet MacDonald shared the soprano solos with Karen Reed. Both were in excellent voice and added greatly to the joy of the whole evening.

It was an additional pleasure to see Myriam Prual back with the choir after a protracted illness. Maybe we will hear her singing solo parts again before long. In the softer passages it was lovely to hear flautist Marcus Carson, oboist Julia Hill. and clarinettist Phillip Bonser, gently supporting the choir and soloists.

Angela Blackwell led the orchestra in style with violinists Sally Bull and Chris Gould (when not playing clarion fanfares on his trumpet) and a new member of the orchestra, Kristina Pavic. Marion Kenworthy and Sue Stock provided viola and 'cello, and Sue was also in charge of announcements, which she dealt with very professionally.

This "Messiah" was an experience to remember. Engaging and inspiring from the first note to the final words, not to mention the spectacular "Hallelujah Chorus", this was the perfect way for the choir to celebrate half a century since their first forays into public performance, and over two hundred great works performed during that time. Congratulations to all involved (including Barbara Scales and Carolyn Keep for her work on publicity and catering) for a very special celebratory concert.

There is more to come, of course. on Thursday 20 December the Choral Society will be at Littlemead Methodist Church in Exmouth at 4pm for their Christmas Concert. The next major work will be Haydn's "Creation" which will be at the usual venues of St Margaret's and Holy Trinity on Saturday and Sunday 4 & 5 May 2019. Do contact Barbara Scales on 07950 021006 for details, if you would like to get involved!

Clyst Valley Choral Society
Musical Director: Paul Stock 

Clyst Valley Choral Society
Littlemead Methodist Church
Littlemead Road Exmouth
Thursday 20 December 4pm
Musical Director: Paul Stock
Soprano: Janet Macdonald
Tickets: details TBC

Clyst Valley Choral Society
Musical Director: Paul Stock
Clyst Valley Choral Society
1 St Margaret's Church Topsham
   Saturday 4 May 7.30pm
2 Holy Trinity Church Exmouth
   Sunday 5 May 7.30pm
- - - "CREATION" - - -
Musical Director: Paul Stock
Soprano: Janet Macdonald
Tickets: Details TBC

EMG Symphony Orchestra Mahler 5th Symphony Exeter Cathedral Saturday 17 November 2018

Leo Geyer
conducts EMG Symphony Orchestra
Mahler's Fifth Symphony
Exeter Cathedral
Saturday 17 November
(photography: Paula Fernley)

The Horn Section prepare in the Chapter House
Principal Horn Beth Osment (3rd from right)
Leo Geyer's musical direction of Exeter's EMG Symphony Orchestra goes from strength to strength. Last Saturday at the Cathedral a capacity audience were treated to a spectacular performance of Mahler's Fifth Symphony which was a sensational experience from start to finish.

Leo introduced the music briefly from the rostrum before conducting. His voice carries well in the Cathedral nave, and his explanations were brief and easy to follow.

Condutor & Leader
Leo Geyer & Clare Smith
In addition violinist Audrey Williams (who is also the organist at the Church of St John the Evangelist in Withycombe Raleigh, Exmouth) had written detailed programme notes outlining the history of the composition and its relevance in Mahler's own life. In particular it was interesting to read that the fourth movement was a love song to Alma Schindler. Gustav and Alma were married in the same year the Fifth Symphony was completed.

Central to the whole composition is the resounding brass and percussion. Brian Moore, the regular principal trumpet sadly was not able to join the orchestra to play the opening trumpet fanfare, and recurring theme, but Tony Hindley stood in magnificently, playing a faultless solo to open proceedings, with powerful support from the other trumpetters, and Charles Dowell's trombones - not to mention Rob O'Byrne's stentorian tuba!

Harp: Susan Sherratt
Other notable contributions were from Beth Osment who is now Principal French Horn, David Lotinga on cor Anglais, and Paul Jones with his rasping contrabassoon. Many others also had a chance to shine, including oboist Kate Osbourne and clarinettist Richard de la Rue. Particularly lovely was the sweet collaboration between Amye Farrell's 'cellos and Susan Sherratt's splendid concert harp.

It had wisely been decided that there would be no interval, and the Symphony would be performed in its entirety with nothing to break up the natural succession of the five movements.

The resulting cascade of sensual sound was not only a marathon performance for the musicians (who all acquitted themselve with distinction) but also a totally immersive experience for the audience.

Mahler was determined to make this a work that would stir souls and leave a lasting impression. In the hands of Conductor Leo Geyer and Leader Clare Smith the Orchestra achieved that very impressively. The Cathedral vaults resounded with mighty and inspiring sound. Congratulations to all involved in bringing such marvellous music to a wider audience.

The EMG Symphony Orchestra have a policy of keeping their seat prices low. Even front row seats are only £16 (for those who order in time!) The music is always of the very highest calibre, and represents a superb way to spend an entertaining and moving evening.

Mahler's Fifth Symphony
Conductor: Leo Geyer

(photography: Paula Fernley)

Their next project, which they will start rehearsing with Leo in January, is Carl Orff's 1935 orchestration of the songs from the twelfth century written by students at the Benedict Beuern Monastery in Bavaria. These "Carmina Burana" are subtitled "Cantiones Profanae" and reflect the observations of the students in their secular life in the local towns - and particularly taverns.

The performance will be at Exeter Cathedral on Saturday 13 April 2019, and the EMG Symphony Orchestra will be joined by the Jean-Marie Lorand Ensemble who are based in Rennes (Exeter's twin city in Ille-et-Vilaine, Brittany) with whom they have collaborated many times in the past.

Rehearsals will be at St Peter's School in Quarry Lane, Exeter. Do look out for those special 'Open Rehearsals' where members of the public are invited to come and see the orchestra at work, and children in particular can learn more and be inspired. Musician at Grade VI or above in their instrument are also invited to participate in the open rehearsal. In addition, any singers who have experience of performing Carmina Burana are invited to join rehearsals and to swell numbers on the big night. Enquiries are welcomed via the EMG Website.

EMG Symphony Orchestra
Éloi Marchand
Ensemble Jean-Marie Lorand
Exeter Cathedral
Saturday 13 April 7.30pm
Chef de Choeur: Éloi Marchand
Orchestra Conductor: Leo Geyer
Orchestra Leader: Clare Smith
Carl Orff: "Carmina Burana"
Cantiones Profanæ (Secular Songs)

Tickets: details TBC

Friday, 23 November 2018

Cygnet Company "His Return" Cygnet New Theatre Friar's Gate Thursday-Saturday 22-24 November Wednesday-Saturday 28 November-1 December 2018

Cygnet Theatre
Thursday 22 November - Saturday 1 December
performed by students of Cygnet Theatre:
Thora Pedersen, Oliver Heaton, Roxanne Eastaugh,
Ed Watterson, Harriet Birks

"The Game" Louise Bryant
Youth (Ed Watterson) prepares to jump into the ocean
Life (Thora Pedersen) & Death (Oliver Heaton)
vie for his soul
Cygnet Theatre Director Alistair Ganley has been working with the current students of that wonderful school of drama to prepare a series of one-act plays which are quintessentially apposite to the current mood of remembrance for the suffering of all Europeans during the terrible conflict of The Great War, which reached it's dramatic conclusion one hundred years ago.

In the uncertain years between the end of that war, and beginning of an even more devastating conflagration, three playwrights from England and The United States created a series of short one-act plays exploring the experience of The Great War from varying perspectives.

"The Game" Louise Bryant
Youth (Ed Watterson) meets another suicide
The Girl (Harriet Birks)
watched by Death (Oliver Heaton)

The Cygnet team have chosen six very different plays by John Galsworthy, Louise Bryant and Percival Wilde, which offer very revealing insights into life and popular perception during The War and the ensuing peace (or inter-war years as we would now see them).

They open with Louise Bryant's "The Game", a supernatural take on life and death, where 'Life' (Thora Pedersen) and 'Death' (Oliver Heaton) are characters playing a game of dice for the souls of humans, determining whether they will live or die. This simple construct provides ample scope for trenchant observations about the the value of human life, and the degree to which it is valued.

The case study in question is two young artists 'Youth' (Ed Watterson) and 'The Girl' (Harriet Birks), both suicidal despite their independently promising lives. This piece is beautifully performed and explores the prospect of life and death systematically, in the context of terrible slaughter on the Western Front.

"Defeat" John Galsworthy
The Officer (Ed Watterson)
newly out of hospital
is schooled on the way of war by
The Girl (Harriet Birks)
The second piece, "Defeat" by John Galsworty, takes the audience to the Western Front and a meeting between a young officer and a prostitute. Despite his own injuries and the death of many of his comrades in arms, 'The Officer' (Ed Watterson) retains an idealistic view of war as an opportunity to demonstrate selfless acts of bravery to protect a way of life.

'The Girl' (Harriet Birks) sees things quite differently. Her experience of soldiers has taught her about the more selfish side of human nature. The officer's arguments for the nobility of war and the quality of human altruism are shredded by The Girl's responses.

All actors must be able to sing and dance, as parts often require these skills. In "The Game" Harriet demonstrated her dancing superbly. Now in 'Defeat' she demonstrates a spectacular ability to sing as, during the final denouement, she must express herself in song against a cacophony of extraneous sounds including several men singing a completely different song.

Cygnet veteran Louise Wilde put together this magnificent moment, but Harriet must take all the credit for her stellar on-stage performance.

"The Unseen Host" Percival Wilde
Orderly (Ed Watterson) brings ghostly news to
The Visitor (Roxanne Eastaugh) and
The Surgeon (Oliver Heaton)
Third is "The Unseen Host" by Percival Wilde. Ed Watterson reappears as a wounded 'Orderly' in a military surgical hospital run by 'The Surgeon' (Oliver Heaton). This American doctor is entertaining a compatriot 'The Visitor' (Roxanne Eastaugh), and recounting the spectral visions of one of his patients.

Life, death, and the possibility of life after death, are debated and analysed in detail in this ghostly story. Scepticism and credulity take turns to dominate the discussion, with a shocking and intriguing final outcome.

For all its simplicity, this short one-act is a very deft piece of theatre and quite rightly takes its place among the impressive line-up of works in this production.

"Mothers of Men" Percival Wilde
'The Caller' (Harriet Birks)
presents with a portentous letter to
Mrs Chepstowe (Roxanne Eastaugh)

After the interval, during which the Cygnet volunteers serve drinks and snacks in the foyer, Roxanne Eastaugh and Harriet Birks return as 'Mrs Chepstowe' and a mysterious 'Visitor', also intriguingly called Chepstowe, in "Mothers of Men" by Percival Wilde.

"Mothers of Men" Percival Wilde
'The Caller' (Harriet Birks)
awaits the response of

Mrs Chepstow (Roxanne Eastaugh)
This simple two-hander gives a very clear image of life for women whose sons are absent for long periods on active service.

Not only are they both very anxious about the fate of their offspring, they also come into conflict about the exact explanation of what has happened to them.

The explanation, when it does come (via a courier, Ed Watterson) is worse than either could anticipate.

"Mothers of Men" Percival Wilde
Mrs Chepstow (Roxanne Eastaugh)
receives terrible news, also affecting
'The Caller' (Harriet Birks)

"Mothers of Men" Percival Wilde
Mrs Chepstow (Roxanne Eastaugh)
shares the grief of
'The Caller' (Harriet Birks)

"The Sun" John Galsworthy
The Girl (Thora  Pedersen)
watches apprehensively as
The Man ( Oliver Heaton) escalates
the conflict with The Soldier (Ed Watterson)
And what of boyfriends, whose lovers have found new love in their absence? The two suitors must eventually meet. What then?

"The Sun" John Galsworthy
The Girl (Thora  Pedersen) is anguished
as The Man ( Oliver Heaton) resorts
to fisticuffs with The Soldier (Ed Watterson)
In "The Sun" by John Galsworthy, 'The Girl' (Thora Pederson) anxiously awaits the return of her former (and blissfully ignorant) boyfriend, with her pugnacious new partner 'The Man' (Oliver Heaton).

"The Sun" John Galsworthy
The Girl (Thora  Pedersen) intervenes
as The Man ( Oliver Heaton) launches his
attack against The Soldier (Ed Watterson)
Despite his sudden and unexpected disappointment, The Soldier (Ed Watterson) is quick to recognise the change in his fortunes and make peace. Sadly The Man is not so flexible and sparks soon fly.

The action in this short play is as exciting as the interactions between the characters are engaging. Oliver and Ed make impressive sparring partners, and cleverly pit quite different personalities against each other. Thora, despite her apparently passive rôle is a very significant driving force in the narrative.

"His Return" Percival Wilde
Helen Hartley (Roxanne Eastaugh)
reflects on her three year separation with
Sylvia Best (Thora Pedersen)
Finally in the eponymous "His Return" by Percival Wilde, officer John Hartley returns to his wife slightly earlier than expected creating domestic confusion.

This lovely comic miniature is the perfect end to a selection of works recalling what was a terrible time for everyone in society.

The humour only accentuates the terrible sadness of the situation, which is brought out in small details of the lives of those left behind by men going to war.

"His Return" Percival Wilde
Helen Hartley (Roxanne Eastaugh)
reads her husband's romantic letter to
Sylvia Best (Thora Pedersen)
as she is dressed for his return by
The Maid (Harriet Birks)
Oliver Heaton appears one last time in the title rôle as 'John Hartley', a war-weary survivor with his sense of humour intact. However, the central rôle is 'Helen Hartley' (Roxanne Eastaugh) who gives a detailed discourse on the experience of war for the wife at home, in conversation with her friend and confidante 'Sylvia Best' (Thora Pedersen).

Not insignificant is the supporting character of Helen's servant 'The Maid' (Harriet Birks) who is perhaps the one most closely connected with the unfolding drama.

"His Return" Percival Wilde
John Hartley (Oliver Heaton)
is joyously reunited with his wife
Helen Hartley (Roxanne Eastaugh)
The actual return of the conquering hero is also the close of the evening's entertainment and is perfectly touching and moving. Oliver gets the last word and it is certainly worth waiting for!

Apart from Louise Wilde's amazing musical contributions, Lucy Corley was supremely in control in the sound and lighting room. Stephen Copp is to be commended on his interpretations of voices and text. Hermione Skrine created lavish and superbly authentic costumes. Most importantly Alistair Ganley once again created and directed a spectacular show which is a credit to all involved.

"His Return" continues for several more days, and intermittently until Saturday 1 December. Doors open at 7pm for a 7.30pm start, and there is a 3pm matinée on Saturday 24 November.

Cygnet Company

Cygnet Theatre
Thur-Sat 22-24 November
Wed-Sat 28 Nov-1 Dec
7 for 7.30pm (3pm matinée 24th)
Director: Alistair Ganley
Music: Louise Wilde
Cast: Thora Maria Bisted Pedersen
- Oliver Heaton - Ed Watterson
- Harriet Birks - Roxanne Eastaugh
Tickets £12 (£10)
Box Office: 01392 277189
Exeter TIC: 01392 665885
Online Booking: WeGotTickets

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Substance & Shadow Theatre Company "One for Sorrow" Tuckers Hall Tuesday 13 November - Thursday 15 November 2018

"One for Sorrow"
Nathan Simpson is Jeramiah Nerthercott
Fern Stone is Martha Flay née Skibbow
Midge Mullin is Igantius Flay
Richard Pulman is Thomas Flay

Thirteen months on from Midge Mullin's stunning performance as Howie Lee, opposite Si Cook's Rookie Lee in Mark O'Rowe's "Howie the Rookie", Midge returns to the stage as Ignatius Flay in Substance and Shadow Theatre Company's own reworking of Thomas Hayne Bayley's "Mistletoe Bough", entitled "One for Sorrow".

For a bride to die on her wedding day is generally considered the archetype of tragedy. The case of Primula Rollo springs to mind. Partying at Tyrone Power's mansion after her marriage to David Niven, she took a wrong turn during a game of hide and seek and fell to her death on the basement stairs, thinking she was jumping into a closet.

"Ophelia" (detail)
Sir John Everett Millais
In this sorry tale, Martha Skibbow, having secured the hand of the successful wool-merchant Thomas Flay, disappears mysteriously during a similar party game. However, in this case things may not be what they seem. The family she is marrying into is no stranger to sudden death. Thomas' first wife, Elspeth, died carrying their first child. Throughout the play are references to Elspeth's lifeless body floating in the River Exe like the doomed fiancée of Shakespeare's Prince Hamlet, as immortalised by Sir John Everett Millais in 1852.

This story seems to be set at about the same time as Millais created his painful image of Ophelia. The site-specific setting of Tucker's Hall is not coincidental. Woollen cloth manufacture was a major industry in Exeter until the nineteenth century, when industrial innovations systematically adopted in northern England supplanted the then redundant cottage industry techniques which had made the Exeter traders wealthy.

Tuckers Hall
Fore Street Exeter
Tucker's Hall, unobtrusively situated half-way down Exeter's Fore Street, is the home of the Incorporation of Weavers, Fullers, & Shearmen. These three professions execute just a fraction of the processes involved in converting the fleece of a sheep into saleable woollen cloth. Fullers and Tuckers are synonymous. Pounding the woven cloth in human urine and then Oxford clay, either by hand (more precisely, by foot) or using water powered wooden hammers.

Very fortunately, the building housing the original Incorporation survived the infamous Baedeker Raids by the Luftwaffe which destroyed so many other historic buildings in Exeter. For anyone not familiar with Tucker's Hall, there is a wealth of historical information and fascinating artifacts to discover there. The characters of Thomas and Ignatius Flay (Richard Pulman and Midge Mullin) are the perfect embodiment of the culture and attitudes of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Exeter middle class who were dependent on the then rapidly declining wool industry.

Fern Stone is Martha Flay
in the finest Exeter wool
Add into the mix the popular mythology of the time, and human frailty and susceptibility to delusion and fear, and an already traumatic tragedy becomes an insurmountable edifice of human grief and sadness. This play very accurately recounts the delusional world of the comfortable middle class of the pre-Victorian era. The accents are perfect. (Midge Mullin, as always, has mastered yet another completely new voice.) Nathan Simpson provides detailed narration, while also portraying the caring burgess Jeremiah Nethercott, a skillful combination which often involves very nimble transformations.

Fern Stone, as Martha Skibbow the daughter of a housemaid who has somehow been chosen by the wealthy Thomas as his second wife, seems at first to be just a cameo. However, later in the production she recreates her harrowing experience as youthful bride to an ageing heir. Her performance is very moving - and very relevant to the wool industry-based theme.

Quite apart from the fascinating historical artifacts and information presented throughout the Hall itself, Substance and Shadow Theatre Company's production gives a vivid insight into life in historical Exeter, of which many residents may be totally unaware. The play continues twice nightly for two more nights (Wednesday 14th November, and Thursday 15th November) and will be presented again at the even more historically significant St Nicholas Priory (a place of Christian worship and hospital since shortly after the Norman Conquest).

"Chapeau!" to Director Rosie Mullin, and the whole Substance & Shadow team for another riveting and informative theatrical production. Long may this fabulous collaboration continue!

Substance Shadow Theatre Company
Tuckers Hall Fore Street Exeter
Tues 13 -Thur 15 November 7pm & 9pm
(Repeated at St Nicholas Priory 27-29 Nov)
A sinister story written by
Midge Rosie Mullin
Tickets: £10
Online BookingTicket Source

Substance Shadow Theatre Company
St Nicholas' Priory, Mint Lane, Exeter
Tues 27 -Thur 29 November 7pm & 9pm
(Previously at Tucker's Hall 13-15 Nov)
A sinister story written by
Midge Rosie Mullin
Tickets: £10
Online BookingTicket Source

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

A very special event: Sir Edward Elgar's "Dream of Gerontius" East Devon Choral Society and Blundell's School Choir Blundell's School Tiverton Saturday 24 November 2018

Andrew Daldorph
conducts a rehearsal of
Sir Edward Elgar's
"Dream of Gerontius"

The 80 voice
East Devon Choral Society
Excitement mounts as the East Devon Choral Society gears up for its imminent performance of Sir Edward Elgar's oratorio "The Dream of Gerontius". Andrew Daldorph is meeting with the choir every Monday at the Old Heathcoat School Community Centre in Tiverton.

There are roughly eighty singers in the choir with a strong bass and tenor line - led by the resounding voice of tenor Dave Regester. They are already in good voice for the concert. Indeed many participated in the performance of 'Gerontius' at St Paul's Church, Tiverton, in 2011.

(See "A Very Major Choral Work".)

Nevertheless, Andrew continues to work on every detail of the piece, drawing out the very best from the singers. In particular he is determined to ensure that the demons are as daemonic as before, if not more so.

On the night (Saturday 24 November) the choir will be joined by the Blundell's School Choir and a sinfonia led by Fiona McLean-Buechel embellished with extra instruments - including tuba and contrabassoon.

This is going to be very special!

East Devon Choral Society
& Blundell's School Choir
Blundell's School Tiverton
(Blundell's Road EX16 4DN)
Saturday 24 November 7.30pm
Musical Director: Andrew Daldorph
Orchestra Leader: Fiona McLean Buechel
Sir Edward Elgar: "The Dream of Gerontius"
Mezzo Soprano: Louise Mott
Tenor Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks
Baritone: Tim Mirfin
Tickets: £16 (child £5)
Tiverton TIC: 01884 230878
Information: 01844 253494

Staircase Opera "Myth & Magic & Superstition" St Michael's Chagford Saturday 3 November Rougemont Hotel Exeter Sunday 4 November 2018 Rehearsal Photographs & Review

Rebecca Smith

Carolyn Harries is a spirit apparition
in Guiseppe Verdi's "Macbeth"
A year on from Staircase Opera Company's mini tour of Devon with "A Night at the Opera" a year ago, they presented a new production, "Myth & Magic & Superstition". They returned to Chagford on Saturday 3 November, and also gave an afternoon performance in the Cavendish Ballroom at Exeter's Rougemont Hotel the following afternoon, Sunday 4 November.

Paul McClure was unable to take part, and Roger Stephenson shared the responsibility for piano accompaniment with Jonathan Watts. Mezzosoprano Carolyn Harries, despite serious illness and a stint in hospital,  took charge of the proceedings.

And Ulrike in Verdi's
"Un Ballo in Maschera"
"Re dell'abisso, affrettati"
(King of the abyss, make haste)
Martin Harvey as ever provided coordination and direction throughout rehearsals, and was master of ceremonies at the two performances.

The programme featured arias and choruses from classical and romantic operas which feature the occult and mysterious.

In the opening scene Carolyn appeared with Judith Aarons and Donna-Marie Broomfield as the three witches in Shakespeare's story of General Macbeth as written for the opera adaptation by Guiseppe Verdi. As an ouverture their concoction of a magical casserole of ingredients acted as a perfect appetiser for the splendid concatenation of things spiritual and spectral which were to follow.

Donna-Marie Broomfield is Oscar
Guiseppe Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera
"Volta la terrea fronte alle stelle'?"
(Her face turns from the Earth to the Stars)
Continuing with the music of Guiseppe Verdi, Donna-Marie Broomfield appeared as Oscar in "Un Ballo in Maschera" defending Ulrike against the charge of witchcraft.

Donna is well known in Devon for her musical partnership with Matthew Wilding as the 'Belle Voci' Duo. As a solo performer Donna had a chance to show off her solo talents and entranced the audience with her delightful soprano voice.

Carolyn Harries returned to the stage as Ulrike herself to summon the powers of darkness to her aid. These darker characters tend to go to the mezzosoprano and require very special treatment. Carolyn showed exactly how expressive that lower range can be in such a sinister role.

Urlika Ilnytska is Orfeo
Cristoph Gluck: "Orfeo ed Euridice"
"Che farò senza Euridice?"
(What shat I do without Euridice?)
The scene then shifted to the underworld and Cristoph Willibald Gluck's operatic tale of Orfeo's unsuccessful attempt to retrieve his beloved Euridice from the clutches of death. The only condition he had to meet was to keep his eyes on the exit from Hades and resist Euridice's entreaties to give her even a passing backward glance. In true tragic style Orfeo fails in this simple requirement and condemns Euridice to a second and permanent death.

Ukrainian mezzosoprano Iryna Ilnytska gave a heart-rending rendition of Orfeo's subsequent remorseful lament. Too late he realises the irreversible consequence of his actions and determines to embrace death himself and join Euridice in the underworld. Iryna conveyed Orfeo's sense of desolation and despair with simple and controlled pathos. A Stellar performance indeed.

W A Mozart: "The Magic Flute"
Tamino (Tim Steiner) is confronted by
Papageno (Tim Hunt) made mute for lying
Tenors Tim Steiner and Tim Hunt took the action to the Masonic Temple Gardens in Mozart's "Magic Flute" and another tale of an imprisoned heroine. In this case Pamina is incarcerated in the temple while her potential rescuer Tamino has first to solve the problem of Papageno the bird catcher, whose mouth has been locked shut by the Queen of the Night and her entourage for taking the credit for their rescue of Tamino.

Tim Hunt is well known for playing the lead in many Saint David's Players productions of Gilbert & Sullivan operas at the Barnfield Theatre in Exeter.

The Queen of the Night (Judith Aarons)
frees Papageno to speak
2nd & 3rd Ladies:
Carolyn Harries & Iryna Ilnytska
The part of Papageno was perfect for him. Even with his mouth locked shut he was able to bring incredible expression to his strangled mutterings. Once released from bondage by the Queen of the Night he was able to give full rein to his comic operatic abilities. Judith Aarons was that queen and, being a fellow member of the St David's Players, provided a perfect foil to his delighfully confused take on his predicament.

Judith was accompanied by two loyal retainers (Carolyn Harries and Iryna Ilnytska) who echoed her admonitions and  instructions in a suitably subordinate and collaborative style.

The Magic Flute!
The flute itself was transformed by music and consummate acting from a small and insignificant prop to its true status as the central plot device of the whole opera. Judith and her two accomplices proudly present this sacred instrument, while the two Tims debate its properties and value. (It will transform sorrow to joy when played, no less.)

"Be brave!"
The Queen sends the men
on a quest to rescue her daughter
for Papageno
protective bells
Despite the forceful encouragement of the women, Papageno is still reluctant to participate in the risky venture to rescue Pamina from the temple.

To give him confidence he is presented with his own gift, a set of silver bells which will protect him from harm. Pacified, he agrees to join Tamino's quest.

Papageno: Tim Hunt
Pamina: Judith Aarons
"Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen"
Tim had another opportunity to demonstrate his masterful handling of props in a duet with Judith Aarons, now changing roles and playing the part of Pamina. As Tim presents Judith with individual flower stems to add to her bouquet he talks of love, a charming comic interplay develops. A priceless scene between two highly talented comic actors - and a musical delight.

Sarastro: Roderick Hunt
"Nehmt sie in euren Wohnsitz auf"
Next came the stentorian bass voice of Roderick Hunt, as the supposed arch-villain Sarastro. His aria, however, was not to menacing message of an abductor, but rather a heart-felt blessing on the union of Pamina and Tamino - with a plea to the gods Isis and Osiris to prepare and admit the loving couple to their heavenly world.

Against the gentle foil of the priests' chorus Roderick plumbed the deepest notes with skill and ease.

The Bird Catcher
Tim Hunt is Papageno
Tim Hunt still had unfinished business as Papageno. He was tired of hunting birds and wanted to use his skills to attract a potential wife. Again Tim demonstrated his skillful use of props as he played part of the instrumental line on a small set of golden pan-pipes.

Papageno meets Papagena
(Pip Gasgoigne-Pees)
His song of longing is soon rewarded by the arrival of Papagena (Pip Gascoigne-Pees). Pip is a new discovery for Staircase opera, and a brilliant soprano. The interaction between Pip and Tim was perfect and it was a joy to see them revelling in their newly discovered love.

And true love blossoms
The duet is very taxing, involving the repeated stuttering of the names "Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Papageno!" and "Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Papagena!" The incredible skill with which they managed this masterpiece of comic opera was a joy to behold.

Roderick Hunt and the full company ended the first half of the concert with "The Sun's Radiant Glory" and "Hail to Thee Great Isis". A magnificent first half closer.

Mozart's "Magic Flute" has intrigued generations of opera enthusiasts. The intriguing world of the Masonic Temple, the bewildering array of characters, and the strange and unexpected twists and turns of the plot, are endlessly entertaining. Staircase Opera's mini-selection from the full story was a spectacular and intriguing introduction to that magical world.

 Part 2 - "Carmen!"

Waiting outside the Cigarette Factory
Roderick Hunt
Tim HuntTim Steiner

The second half of the programme opened with a street scene where men loiter outside a cigarette factory waiting for the women to end their shift. The opera is "Carmen" by Georges Bizet and the woman they are all waiting for is Carmen herself.

Carmen: Rebecca Smith
Enter stage left, Rebecca Smith as the eponymous heroine. She leads the men on with her immortal line, "If I love you, oh - take care!". Rebecca is frighteningly convincing as the vampish Carmen, cruelly seducing the waiting men.

Carmen meets Don José
Rebecca Smith & Matthew Wilding
Particular attention is reserved for Don José (Matthew Wilding) the dragoon officer, to whom she throws a flower. Initially unfazed, Matthew is slowly drawn into Rebecca's web of control.

Michaela delivers a letter
from Don José's mother
Donna-Marie Broomfield
& Matthew Wilding
The scene then jumped to a meeting between Don José and a factory worker from his own village, Michaela (Donna-Marie Broomfield). She has a letter for him from his mother. The letter asks him to consider marrying Michaela, a suggestion to which he readily agreees.
which contains news for her
Donna-Marie Broomfield

Matthew Wilding

A loving scene then follows, one which Donna and Matthew performed with much tenderness and emotion. The performance was such a success, they are considering including it in their regular 'Belle Voci Duo' repertoire.

Martin Harvey explained that this romantic connection is almost immediately ruined by Carmen getting arrested, persuading Don José to free her, and Don José himself ending up in prison for dereliction of duty.

Escamillo (Alex Stevens)
takes the stage
As a fugitive, Carmen then encounters a new victim, the dashing matador Escamillo. The part was played by Alex Stevens who was in Staircase Opera's very first production, Benjamin Britten's adaptation of Henry James' "Turn of the Screw" at Killerton House in 2003. Still full of youthful energy, Alex appeared at rehearsal in rugby kit, and was an equally imposing figure in a three piece suit at the concert.

"Toréador, en garde! Toréador!"
Alexander Stevens
Alex introduced himself with the familiar and memorable 'Toreador Song', a tale of danger and bravery, ending with an appeal to love. Alex's bass-baritone voice and mastery of the moving words created a very favorable impression - although perhaps not so well-received by Don José.

Carmen meets Escamillo
Rebecca Smith & Alex Stevens
Escamillo appeals to Carmen to share her intoxicating and dangerous love with him, a course of action guaranteed to inflame the passion of the jealous Don José.

"La fleur que tu m'avais jetée"
Matthew Wilding
Don José appeals to Carmen to return to him, holding up the flower she threw him - which has somehow miraculously survived. Matthew gave a particularly touching performance as the love-sick suitor.

"Carmen, I love you!"
Matthew Wilding
Back with her band of outlaws, accompanied now by Don José, Carmen crashes a tarot reading session and draws cards to predict her own future and discovers it is death that is in store for her. In keeping with the 'superstition' theme of the evening, Rebecca appeared utterly convinced of the predictive power of playing cards, and trapped by her fatal destiny.

Before that final disaster there was time for one last performance for the whole company. Martin Harvey, always keen to bring the performers close to their audience, arranged for the singers to take up positions to the left and right of the main seating area. Heads turned in all directions as they called out their wares as street vendors and invited customers to come and buy. Sadly, this joyous scene was only by way of contrast, and a brief diversion, before the tragic culmination of Carmen's disastrous career. (The most moving and shocking scene of the evening, but best left for opera lovers to find out about for themselves!)

What a magnificent and absorbing evening of opera. Staircase opera not only demonstrated their individual and combined skills as operatic singers, and introduced the listeners to famous and less familiar music, they created a compelling journey of discovery contrasting different moods and feelings in an impressively memorable way. For anyone who loves opera, and anyone interested to sample its delights, Staircase opera concerts never fail to deliver.

Following on from their shocking performance of Gian-Carlo Menotti's opera "The Medium" exactly two years ago (31 October-4 November 2016), Staircase opera will be performing another Menotti opera in April next year. "The Consul", first performed in 1950, is a very familiar tale of slow moving bureaucracy with the twist of life-threatening urgency. Set in the visa department of a consulate building, most of the action involves a woman trying to obtain an exit visa for her fugitive husband. Other characters attempt to obtain visas too, with varying degrees of success. It will be very interesting to see what Menotti, and the Staircase Opera Company, have made of this frustrating situation.

Staircase Opera
Venues TBC
Monday 22 - Saturday 27 April
Director: Martin Harvey
Gian Carlo Menotti: "The Consul"
1950 full-length opera with 11 characters