Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Staircase Opera: Gian Carlo Menotti "The Consul" Roborough Studios Wednesday-Saturday 24-27 April 2019

Anna Gregory is Magda Sorel
Gian Carlo Menotti: "The Consul"

Roborough Studios
Wed-Sat 24-27 April

A family in peril
Mother: Carolyn Harries
John Sorel: Dominic Rousseau
Magda Sorel: Anna Gregory
This Wednesday the Staircase Opera Company start a new run at the Roborough Studios on Exeter University Streatham Campus. Following on from their very successful production of Gian Carlo Menotti's "The Medium" in November 2016 (read review), they are presenting Menotti's spectacular Pulitzer Prize winning 1950 work "The Consul".

Inspired by the plight of displaced persons after the Second World War, this opera follows the struggles of asylum seekers and their exhausting efforts to obtain help from the staff at a foreign consulate. This theme has remained relevant and moving right up to the present day.

The main protagonists are the Sorel family who desperately need assistance to escape tyranny in their own country. John and Magda live with John's mother and their baby son. John's involvement in the fight for freedom attracts the attention of the secret police, putting them all in danger.

Freedom Fighter
John Sorel:
Dominic Rousseau
The first act opens with singing heard through an open window - actually a recording made this week by soprano Christine Marsden in Dunsford. Dominic Rousseau is the freedom fighter John Sorel. Dominic is taking on his first full-length opera having trained for many years with local baritone legend Alex Poulton. Dominic trained as a GP in Exeter and now works full time as a hospital consultant, while also practicing and rehearsing his singing. His hard work has certainly paid off. As John Sorel he commands the stage and exudes the courage and fear of Sorel with every line.

Holding the Fort
Magda Sorel:
Anna Gregory
Carrying the torch for John in his enforced absence are his wife and mother. Carolyn Harries is The Mother who dotes on their grandchild but lives in constant distress at the family's oppressed circumstances. Anna Gregory is John's wife Magda Sorel, a devoted spouse overwhelmed by the impossible responsibilities she is forced to shoulder. Anna is another new addition to the Staircase personnel. She first worked with Carolyn Harries at Scottish Opera, and later at Opera Holland Park. Anna's performance is spectacular. She pours and urgent sense of passion and desperation into her response to all the trials that confront her.

The Turn of the Screw
Magda Sorel:
Anna Gregory
Secret Police Officer:
Alex Poulton
Magda's most threatening adversary is The Secret Police Officer played by Alex Poulton himself. Alex turns his trademark charm and wit to telling effect as the sly manipulative investigator, playing on Magda's hopes and fears ruthlessly. His splendid baritone voice seems incongruous for such an authoritarian thug, but soon takes on a new sense of menace as his every word carries threatening implications.

Devoted Grandmother
Carolyn Harries
Literally left holding the baby is Carolyn Harries as John's mother and grandmother to the Sorel baby. Carolyn's magnificent alto voice conveys love and concern for her whole family and Act One ends with a particularly touching trio with her and her son and daughter-in-law reflecting to each other their sense of urgency, foreboding and helplessness.

Bastion of Hope
Secretary to the Consul:
Rebecca Smith
Rebecca Smith, an established star of Staircase Opera, is the one person who can offer help to the Sorel family in their desperation. As The Secretary to the Consul she has the means to help refugees obtain the visas they need to escape oppression. Rebecca plays the part impeccably. Despite her obvious concern for the unfortunate situation of the applicants who come to her, she is unable to accelerate the bureaucratic process and provide the timely response they need.

In her attempt to provide the best assistance she can, and deal with everyone fairly, she maintains a facade of emotionless efficiency, insisting that everything is done correctly and according to the protocol dictated by the Consul. The tension between her comfortable existence as a civil servant, and the harrowing stories she has to hear all day, tells in her every action - and the expressive use of her powerful mezzo soprano voice. A stunning performance.

News from the Frontier
Assan the Glasscutter:
Thomas Gunning
Magda Sorel: Anna Gregory
Magda's tenuous contact with her fugitive husband is sustained by her occasional meetings with fellow conspirator Assan the Glasscutter. Assan was to be played by Alex Stevens, who sadly was not able to join the cast this time. His understudy is second year Exeter University drama student Thomas Gunning. Thomas developed a love of drama and singing while at school in South Wales. Now he specialises in stage production, but also retains a keen love of acting and singing. He ably portrays the mild-mannered and sympathetic intermediary between husband and wife. His concern for Magda and John is matched only by his fear of the omnipresent Secret Police Officer.

Seen in a Dream
John Sorel: Dominic Rousseau
Magda Sorel: Anna Gregory
Thomas Gunning, as well as playing Assan, is primarily concerned with the sets, sound effects and lighting. Switching deftly between singing and technical support, he also creates dream sequences in which Magda sees John but cannot communicate with him. The clever use of video projection by Thomas makes this and other effects possible in ways Menotti might not have anticipated.

The Consulate, which is the setting for Acts Two and Three, is also populated by many other hopefuls each with their own compelling story. Tim Hunt is Mr Kofner, a very organised and well-presented man who still cannot quite fulfill the exacting requirements of the Secretary.

All the Right Papers
Mr Kofner: Tim Hunt
Overcoming a Language Barrier
Mr Kofner: Tim Hunt
The Foreign Woman: Gemma Santiago
Secretary: Rebecca Smith
Despite his own difficulties he helps 'The Foreign Woman' (Gemma Santiago) who only speaks Italian. His translations demonstrate his own impressive command of the language.

Tim and Gemma have performed with Staircase before, and bring imagination and energy to their roles. Tim, well known for his appearances in Gilbert and Sullivan with the St David's Players, is an outstanding comic actor. In the Staircase revue "Myth, Magic and Superstition" he was brilliant as Papageno (see reveiw 7 November 2018).

An unreceptive response
Magician: Matt Wilding
Secretary: Rebecca Smith
There are also stellar performances by Matthew Wilding (The Magician, Nika Magadoff), Donna-Marie Broomfield (Anna Gomez) and Pip Gascoigne-Pees (Vera Boronel). Matthew has mastered the art of stage magic especially for this part and performs several impressive conjuring tricks (for the impassive Rebecca Smith) and also introduces an atmosphere of magic into the oppressive environment of the Consulate waiting room - which somehow enhances, rather than allays, the sense of sadness and frustration there.

All must be done correctly
Vera Boronel:
Pip Gascoigne-Pees
Secretary: Rebecca Smith
Donna and Pip each have their own story to tell, and sing beautifully in duet with Rebecca. Despite the continuing emphasis on the trials of Magda and John, they hold the audience's attention with the description of their own problems. A very special feature of this opera is the integration of the actors into the audience. Everyone has to physically move to a new location for Act II in the Consulate - and take their places alongside the characters in the opera. This creates a very intimate sense of involvement in the action.

Each story a compelling tragedy
Anna Gomez:
Donna-Marie Broomfield
There are also dream-like sequences when all the actors move around the space (often dancing very gracefully). All of this amazing action is created by Staircase Opera's Stage Director Martyn Harvey, whose attention to detail and creative imagination combine to bring Menotti's original vision spectacularly to life. The diction and language are bright and clear, every aria and recitative is easy to follow and comprehend, and skilfully set to music.

Dancing in a Dream
Stage Direction: Martyn Harvey
Musical Direction: Paul McClure
Stage Production & Video:
Thomas Gunning
The unseen hand behind this musical achievement is the wonderful Paul McClure who also provides some of the piano accompaniment - with the lion's share of the playing going to his assistant Roger Stephenson. The piano playing is very special in itself, and there are several beautiful interludes which could stand alone as masterful compositions performed with great skill and lightness of touch by the two pianists.

Struggle for Justice
Magda Sorel: Anna Gregory
Secretary: Rebecca Smith
Carolyn, Martyn and Paul have once again shown their mastery of small scale opera production, bringing together a marvellous cast of actors and bringing a very complex and challenging piece to life so brilliantly that Menotti's nightmare world is vividly real for two captivating hours.

There will be one performance per night for the next four nights, starting tonight Wednesday 24 April. Audiences convene at Roborough at 7.15pm for a 7.30pm start. Audience members are advised to be in position in good time - as they are part of the action!

Staircase Opera
Roborough Studios
Streatham Campus
Exeter University
Wed-Sat 24-27 April 7.15pm
by Gian-Carlo Menotti
Director: Martin Harvey
Musical Director: Paul McClure
Piano Accompaniment: Paul McClure
                        & Roger Stephenson
John Sorel: Dominic Rousseau
Magda Sorel: Anna Gregory
The Mother: Carolyn Harries
Secret Police Agent: Alex Poulton
Assan: Alex Stevens Thomas Gunning
The Secretary: Rebecca Smith
Mr Kofner: Tim Hunt
The Foreign Woman: Gemma Santiago
The Magician: Matt Wilding
Anna Gomez: Donna-Marie Broomfield
Vera Boronel: Pip Gascoigne-Pees
Tickets: £16 (student £8)
Exeter Phoenix: 01392 667080
Online BookingExeter Phoenix

Friday, 5 April 2019

EMG Symphony Orchestra & Jean-Marie Lorand Ensemble "Carmina Burana" Exeter Cathedral Saturday 13 April 2019 Press Release from Ellen Stratton

EMG Symphony Orchestra
Exeter Cathedral
Saturday 13 April 7.30pm

(Paula Fernley Photography)

On Saturday 13 April EMG Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Leo Geyer are delighted to welcome back the EMG Singers and French choir, the Jean-Marie Lorand Ensemble, as well as a specially formed children’s choir, for what promises to be an exhilarating night of music at Exeter Cathedral. 

The programme features Carl Orff’s iconic "Carmina Burana", along with Maurice Ravel’s delicate "Menuet Antique" and Claude Debussy’s richly evocative "La Mer"This will be an evening not to be missed!

EMG and the Jean-Marie Lorand Ensemble, based in Exeter's twin city of Rennes, have had links for more than 40 years and have performed together in both cities on a number of occasions.  

This concert, supported by the Exeter Twinning Circle, is in aid of St Petrocks, Exeter’s charity for people who are homeless or vulnerably housed.  St Petrock’s provides a range of support, housing and prevention services to help fill the gaps in services available to individuals in need.

Concert Tickets cost £17, £14, £12 and £10
(students and under-16s - £6 for rear nave or £5 for side aisle seats)
and are available from Exeter Tourist Information, Dix’s Field, Exeter,
01392 665885 (9.30am – 4.30pm, Monday – Saturday),
online from or on the door.

For more information about EMG Symphony Orchestra please visit, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Newton Abbot & District Society of Arts (NADSA) Divertimento String Quartet & Flautist Judith Hall Teignmouth Community School Saturday 13 April 2019 Press Release from Anne White

Flute: Judith Hall

Divertimento Quartet
Viola: Andrew Gillett
Second Violin: Lindsay Braga
'Cello: Vicky EvansFirst Violin: Mary Eade
NADSA concerts brings its season to a close, at Teignmouth Community School on Saturday 13th April, with a most unusual programme: music for flute and strings.

Indeed, this combination has not been promoted by the society before, and it will give the audience a rare opportunity to hear these works performed.

The ensemble bringing this interesting programme is the Divertimento String Quartet with flautist Judith Hall. Judith, popular, and locally based leading flautist, will make this her welcome return to NADSA concerts. Her last appearance with the society was 5 years ago, when she gave a sell-out concert with leading guitarist, Craig Ogden. She obviously delights in being out of the ordinary.

The individuals making up the quartet: Mary Eade, Lindsay Braga, Andrew Gillett and Vicky Evans, have followed diverse paths and enthusiasms. As well as their collaboration in this ensemble, they are sought after as soloists, chamber musicians and orchestral players.

They have chosen works by Mozart, Panufnik, Rossini and Bruch: an intriguing juxtaposition. The first three works, themselves hugely contrasting, are for flute and strings; the final one, Bruch’s wonderful String Quartet in C minor, Op 9, is infused with romantic melodies, warm sonorities and harmonies, as well as unexpected fiery, rhythmic motifs.

Mozart, though myths abound of his hating the sound of the flute, composed beautiful melodies for the instrument, and the resulting compositions occupy one of the most delightful niches in his musical legacy.

Panufnik’s atmospheric work, "Hommage to Chopin", was originally commissioned by UNESCO for a concert in 1949 commemorating the 100th anniversary of Chopin’s death. Panufnik adapted the work for flute and strings in 1966. The Rossini is quintessential Rossini: wit, speed, elegance,  memorable tunes and infectious high spirits.

This varied programme of music making has been assembled to entertain, amuse and inspire: a fitting end to the nadsaconcert season.

Tickets:  £13 in advance, £15 on door (students £2)

From:, Tourist Information Centres, Arnolds (Bovey Tracey), Fables (St Marychurch), on the door (on the night)

Newton Abbot & District Society of Arts
Divertimento String Quartet
Performing Arts Centre TQ14 9HZ
Teignmouth Community School
Saturday 13 April 7.30pm
Flute: Judith Hall
Divertimento String Quartet
Violin: Mary EadeLindsay Braga
Viola: Andrew Gillett
'Cello: Vicky Evans
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:
Quartet 1 in D (flute/violin/viola/cello) K285
Sir Andrzej Panufnik:
Judith Hall
"Hommage à Chopin" (flute/strings)
Gioachino RossiniQuartet 1 (flute/string trio)

from "Sei Sonate a Quattro"
Max Bruch: String Quartet 1 in C minor Opus 9
Tickets: £15 (advance £13 members £10)
Online BookingConcert-Diary
Newton Abbot Tourist Information: 01626 215667
Dawlish Tourist Information: 01626 215665
Arnold's Hardware Bovey Tracey: 01626 832359
Fables Bookshop Marychurch: 01803 323923
Enquiries: 01803 863677

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

House Concert Series, Piano Polina Shifrina, Mezzo Soprano Iryna ilnytska, Exwick Post Office, Inaugural Concert Saturday 30 March 2019

Piano: Polina Shifrina
Mezzo Soprano: Iryna Ilnytska

Exwick Post Office 1893
Russian pianist Polina Shifrina was joined by Ukrainian mezzosoprano Iryna Ilnytska on Saturday for the first of a series of four 'House Concerts' to be performed at Polina's Home, the former Exwick Post Office.

The post office was built for Antony Gibbs to a striking mock-tudor design by Walter Cave in 1893. (Antony's father William had previously paid for the construction of St Michael's Church in Mount Dinham.)

The half-timbered turret was inspired by William Morris' 'Arts & Crafts Movement' of the late nineteenth century. Inside, the building is equally fascinating. The reception room has a small mezzanine, just big enough to accommodate Polina's piano. There is also just room for Iryna to join Polina for accompanied songs.The rest of the room, which is at street level, forms a perfect auditorium for concert-goers.

Iryna Ilnytska
For the inaugural concert Iryna sang songs from "Sea Pictures" suite. The song cycle was composed by Sir Edward Elgar - shortly after Polina's house was built. He subsequently transposed the music to the contralto range at the request of Dame Clara Butt - who gave the premiere performance at the Norwich Festival, dressed as a mermaid.

Iryna did not experiment with piscine costume, but her singing was definitely to the high standard of Dame Clara herself. She opened with the poem "Sea Slumber Song" by Roden Noel, which plumbs the depth of her rich contralto range, with Polina's meticulous accompaniment. The combined sound created an extraordinary mood of deep emotion and longing.

For "In Haven" by Elgar's wife Alice Elgar, Iryna and Polina ably shifted the mood to one of secure contentment. As Iryna explained, Alice was expressing her feeling of safety from life's storms in the haven of her marriage to Edward. Although the words refer to storms at sea and on land, Iryna and Polina created an unforgettable sensation of peace and tranquility fully in keeping with Alice's original sentiments.

Finally the duo turned to the most popular of the five songs, "Where Corals Lie" by Richard Garnett. The sense of yearning returns, but with the the addition of exotic feelings inspired by the beauty of the ocean floor. It is an exhilarating experience to be so close to an operatic singer of Iryna's calibre when she gives an emotive exposition of such expressive music. Polina's little experiment worked perfectly and the resulting sound was a joy to share.

Polina Shifrina
Polina also played three pieces for solo piano, all of which had a gentle undulating rhythm in keeping with the watery theme of the evening. The "Shepherd Boy" Étude by Frédéric Chopin (Opus 25 No1, 1836) followed perfectly from "In Haven" conjuring the image of a boy sheltering from the rain in a mountain cave. With skilfull determination Polina built from a gentle downpour to a flood of tempestuous sound, before depicting the gentle return of peace.

"Frühlingsrauschen" (The Rustle of Spring) by Norwegian Composer Christian Sinding is contemporary with Elgar's "Sea Pictures". Polina's wonderful depiction of the the exciting restlessness of newly formed leaves and branches in a stiff spring breeze could also be heard as the restless movement of water.

A captivating evening of music -
Mezzo Soprano: Iryna Ilnytska
Piano: Polina Shifrina
Finally Iryna and Polina moved to music from the twentieth century - but only just (1901). Iryna sang "Speak, Music" a poem by Arthur Benson, also set to music by Elgar. Mirroring the longing of the Sea Slumber Song, Benson's words implore sweet voices to lull her into restful sleep. A beautiful lullaby, delightfully performed.

Polina's final solo piece was "Jeux d'Eau" (Fountains/Water Features) by Maurice Ravel. As Polina's right hand created the gentle rolling sound of falling water, her left hand melody sounded the joyous laughter of the river god as it tickled him, very noticeably including the very lowest keys on the piano to great effect.

This little evening of songs and piano pieces was very thoughtfully selected and impressively performed, creating a magical atmosphere for a heavenly hour. And there are more musical soirées planned for the near future. On Saturday 4 May, Polina and Iryna will be together again at Polina's house to perform music by Mozart and Beethoven.

To give a little foretaste of the pleasure to come, Saturday's concert ended with Cherubino's aria from 'Le Nozze di Figaro', "Voi che Sapete che Cosa e Amor" (You Ladies who Know what Love Is). This startling shift to comic opera gave a very beguiling indication of how different the next 'House Concert' will be.

Future events at Exwick Post Office will be:

Mozart and Beethoven: Saturday 4 May 6pm

Rachmaninoff: Friday 24 May 6pm

Final Concert - music TBC: Saturday 22 June 6pm

Iryna will also be in concert with Stella Maris Trio
Glenorchy Church Exmouth
Wednesday 17 April 12.30pm
Piano: Sam Baker
Soprano: Rachel Phillips
Mezzo Soprano: Iryna Ilnytska
Handel, Bach, Pergolesi, Mendelssohn . . .