PUCCINI’S GREAT OPERA WITHOUT AN ORCHESTRA PROVES A REVELATION
How often do you attend an event that does things so differently as to make you completely revise your own long-held beliefs of what is good and – well – not so good?
The production of Puccini’s tragic masterpiece La Bohème presented ‘in the round’ in the Great Barn at Manor Farm Fingest, offered just such a dramatic opportunity for a rethink. For a start it was performed on the floor, in the centre of a magnificent ancient wooden barn surrounded on three sides by the packed audience and on the fourth side by the orch… Hey! Wait a minute! Where was the orchestra? In its place was a very grand grand piano on which the music director, Bryan Evans, was about to give a faultless, virtuoso, three hour performance of Puccini’s adapted orchestral score for which he received great applause. Any immediate regrets over the absence of an orchestra were soon proved to be completely misplaced.
Apart from revealing many wonderful attributes of the music that are normally hidden within the complexity of the orchestra’s sound, the use of a piano freed up the singers to perform and act more naturally. Pianissimos could be sung genuinely softly and still be heard, fortes and fortissimos could be delivered without the sweating vocalist wondering if they had enough fuel left in the vocal tank to see them through to the end of the performance. Suddenly, words could be enunciated cleanly, clearly and audibly. Yes! We could hear that the opera was being sung intelligibly in Italian, and you could even line the words up with the translation, displayed discreetly on screens above the arena, if you needed it. Best of all: There wasn’t someone waving a stick around and getting in the way between the performers and their audience. We were all in this together. The effect was stunning!
Luciano Pavarotti’s ghost was banished from the production as Rodolfo’s famous aria che gelida manina, sung by Robyn Lyn Evans, soared clearly into the barn’s rafters unencumbered by an overbearing orchestral climax. Mimi’s wistful Si, mi chiamano Mimi sung by Susana Gaspar, matched it perfectly. This exchange firmly established the tone at the end of the first act for the rest of the opera. The whole cast was immaculate both in voice and acting ability. The sad drama being played out and sung before our eyes was very moving as the doomed love affair between Rodolfo and Mimi edged slowly towards its inevitable conclusion. Everything about the production had been thought through and rehearsed down to the finest detail – and it showed.
2017 marks the 14th year of opera productions at Fingest Great Barn. The event was a complete sell out and, like previous undertakings, was given in aid of two worthwhile children’s charities to which the barn’s owners, Sylvia and Charles Crowther, are passionately committed. Long may this truly excellent collaboration Diva Opera continue.