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La Cenerentola | Fingest Great Barn Opera

La Cenerentola

THE second Diva Opera performance in this year’s programme at the Great Barn in Fingest was a gem. Wayne Morris’s production of Rossini’s rags to riches tale La Cenerentola had some outstanding singing, hilarious comic action, colourful costumes and clever choreography. It was accompanied by music director Bryan Evans on piano to a full house.
Rossini’s take on the classic fairytale Cinderella is the triumph of goodness over vanity and jealousy but with a few surprises. The wicked stepmother becomes the pompous stepfather Don Magnifico. There is no fairy godmother — instead it is the Prince’s tutor and philosopher Alidoro whose job it is to get Cenerentola to the ball. There are no magic pumpkins and carriages. Nor is there a missing slipper — rather a one-of-a-pair bracelet given to the Prince by Cenerentola. What there was, though, was excellent music and entertaining comedy throughout. The singing and the piano accompaniment was of a very high standard.
The coloratura, which is central to Rossini’s writing and technically very demanding, was performed brilliantly by the whole cast. What can be a distraction when the technical difficulty shows was a joy in this performance. Ashley Catling’s Prince was strong and passionate and Matthew Hargreaves had a commanding stage presence as Alidoro. There was some exceptional comic acting from Julien Van Mellaerts as Dandini, enhanced by the rubato of his coloratura for dramatic effect.
Also from the three footmen who, as a concession to the original fairytale, act half mice, half horses as they propel Cenerentola to the ball. Special mention goes to Marta Fontanals-Simmons as Cenerentola herself, whose final aria in particular was breathtaking, effortless in its runs and leaps across the vocal range.
The comedy of the piece was enhanced through the attention to detail in the costume and the choreography. On an almost bare stage, ringleted wigs, gold and silver brocade coats, satin ribbons and bows were a riot of colour. The two sisters played by Charmian Bedford and Louise Mott swished about like French and Saunders — pantomime dolls in bright yellow and purple dresses, rouged cheeks and red curls. All is not right with the world as the lowly servant girl appears at a society ball. A raft of comic effects — rattling crockery, whirling dining table and mock-puppetry — created a topsy turvy world of confusion which had the audience gasping and laughing.
This was altogether a highly professional and fun production. Look out for more opera at Fingest next September.

The Henley Standard
Amanda Sadler

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La Bohème | Fingest Great Barn Opera


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?

La Boheme

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.

Henley Standard
John Burleigh

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Two lyrical evenings full of emotion and – laughter

‘Every year hundreds of music lovers squeeze themselves into the beautiful surroundings of the Chateau du Saillant having become fans of the British opera company DIVA OPERA. Not surprising when one witnesses such intelligence, such savoir-faire, such musical rigour and talent from these lyrical acrobats who – on a shoestring – bring the greatest works of opera to life in a barn! Placed at the centre of the audience, and accompanied by a single piano (played with consummate art by the musical director of the company Bryan Evans), about fifteen singers alternate from one day to the next between leading and supporting roles with true company spirit.

A stage measuring barely 20 square meters welcomes the best of Mozart’s masterpieces, operas like the Tales of Hoffmann, Lucia di Lammemoor, La Traviata, Don Pasquale etc. all with inventive sets, astute and imaginative productions which are immediately readable and wonderfully pertinent. It is always an enormous pleasure.

This year laughter followed tears in the famous barn. With Puccini’s La Bohème, directed by Cameron Menzies, there were tears. A small iron bed, three chairs and a wooden table – one needs no more to be thrust wholeheartedly into the world of the Bohemian life described by Henri Murger in the first pages of his novel. A coldly illuminated bench is the only prop in act three – but how evocative! Our proximity to the singers requires them to have total concentration without being distracted. This proximity guarantees that the audience will be literally invaded by the drama, be part of it. The discreet openings of ladies’ handbags and the muffled clearings of the gentlemen’s throats made it clear, from Colline’s fourth act aria onwards, that it was useless to fight against emotion.

And all this with singers of such a high calibre! From the magnificent Rodolfo of Robyn Lyn Evans in the role of the poet whose homogeneous voice, superb phrasing and generous top notes made one marvel, to the volcanic Musetta of Carly Owen – a veritable condensation of charm and vocal voluptuousness – the casting did the score full justice. Equally in good voice was Adam Gilbert’s Marcello, Lukasz Karauda’s profoundly pathetic Colline and the very moving Mimi of Susana Caspar who gives the best of herself with radiating gentleness and silvery high notes adopting a beautiful musical line; not to forget the luxurious Schaunard of Euros Campbell and Martin Lamb’s two roles of Benoit and Alcindoro to which he gave many colours.

The next day we gathered up our handkerchiefs again only this time to wipe away tears of laughter. Occasions for laughter were many in this production of La Cenerentola – Gioacchino Rossini’s opera buffa masterpiece. Directed by Wayne Morris it was a Disney world that erupted into the barn. Unforgettable was the Prince’s departure in his carriage, with two valets at the front disguised as mice galloping along while the Prince held the reins, while a third valet bobbed in every direction at the back of said carriage. Again imagination is at the fore. Imagination and vocal virtuosity – Rossini obliges. The casting is particularly coherent, clear cut and appropriate. It is true of the fruity, velvet tones of Marta Fontanals-Simmons’ Angelina; of Ashley Catling’s Prince who skilfully uses the counter-tenor’s technique in his big aria “Si, ritrovarla io giuro”; of the two hilarious ugly sisters, Charmian Bedford (Clorinda) and Louise Mott (Tisbe); of the hieratic Alidoro of Matthew Hargreaves; of the dizzying Don Magnifico of Martin Lamb and the colourful Dandini of Julien Van Mellaerts. The whole of this bubbling little world is perfectly synchronised and forms a universe of beautiful voices mostly emerging from the most prestigious musical academies of Britain. A real treat receiving a well deserved and never ending standing ovation’.

Tououse online 24th August 2017
Robert Penavayre

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Great reviews in Opera Magazine France | Festival de la Vézère August 2017

Two great reviews in Opera Magazine France for our performances at the Festival de la Vézère in August 2017

LA BOHÈME (12th August 2017)

Created and run by Isabelle de Lasleyrie du Saillant, the Vezere festival celebrates its 37th birthday this year. For a month, between mid July and mid August, musical evenings follow one another in various different places in Correze. The weekend of the 15th August is traditionally reserved for two operas, given in the outbuildings of the Chateaux du Saillant, by the British company Diva Opera. Two facts: taking the place of the orchestra is a pianist, the excellent Bryan Evans whose wondrous skill is breathtaking, and the production has to take account of the cramped space available and exclude all scenery.

For La Boheme a stove and some furniture suffices to conjure up the attic in which the four artists live, achieved very naturally by Cameron Menzies. Nicola Jackson’s pretty period costumes show off the female singers beautifully. Sung by a young cast, the opera seduces one with its freshness, its lively spirit and its credibility.

With her fruity, velvet voice Susana Gaspar is a touching Mimi – the “bella bambina” that Rodolfo calls evokes. She sings “mi chiamano Mimi” with such sincerity that one has the impression of rediscovering this well-known aria all over again. Carly Owen impersonates a flamboyant Musetta with a scarlet feather adorning her bun; at the end she is very moving when deciding to sell her hearings to buy Mimi some cordial. Robyn Lyn Evans is a sensitive and temperate Rodolfo, Adam Gilbert a man tormented by jealousy and Euros Campbell a convincing Shaunard. As for Lukasz Karauda he interprets the valediction of his overcoat with much brio. The truculent Martin Lamb embodies both Benoit and Alcindoro as if he had just emerged out of a Dickens novel.

Since a chorus in the second act is out of the question, two singers replace the strollers and the children who admire Parpignol’s toys. A big success at the final curtain!
Bruno Villien

la boheme review

LA CENERENTOLA (11th August 2017)

La Cenerentola had two performances. The first was designed to be sung in front of children as a “voyage of discovery”; here the opera was sung in a shortened version with a narrator explaining the plot. The second, two days later, was in front of an enthusiastic public who greatly enjoyed Wayne Morris’ humorous production. The director used huge gags like the entrance of Don Magnifico brandishing a chamber pot that he pretends to empty over the audience producing uproarious laughter. The very spirited performance uses the comical nature of the score well. With their jerky movements on various occasions the characters appear like marionettes without strings.

Fresh from her role as Cherubino at the Garsington Festival Marta Fontanals-Simmons is a delectable Angelina: with all the grace of a pre-Raphaelite model this British mezzo has a dextrous voice full of luminous high notes. The two sisters are often show up as harpies; here young and comely, these conceited women – interpreted very amusingly by Charmian Bedford and Louise Mott – go from wearing hair curlers to fine brocaded dresses without ever losing their haughtiness. Ashley Catling is an imposing Ramiro while Martin Lamb, in his fine leaf-patterened vest, plays a very jovial Don Magnifico. As Dandini, the crafty servant, Julien Van Mellaerts is set against Matthew Hargreaves’ Alidoro – the deus ex machina who pulls all the strings.

Duos, quintets and sextets succeed one another in rapid succession, accompanied on the piano by Bryan Evans. At the end of the opera everyone is involved in a devilish whirlwind of a dance and the public, now conquered, burst into “bravos”.
Bruno Villien

la cenerentola review

Opera Magazine France
Bruno Villien