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