La Boheme and The Cunning Little Vixen
TONY COOPER English Touring Opera and Ireland Opera Theatre Company at Snape Maltings
> Snape Maltings
The English and Irish have joined together and triumphed in this creative partnership as both of these English Touring Opera productions are co-productions with Ireland's Opera Theatre Company, whose artistic director, Annilese Miskimmon, directed a lively and entertaining Boheme, while ETO's general director, James Conway, directed a Vixen that was pure delight. It was a revival of the company's 2002 production and mounted to mark the 150th anniversary of Leos Janacek's birth.
Securing the services of Jonathan Dove, a composer of a dozen operas including Flight – premiered at Glyndebourne and being revived next season – has proved good chemistry.
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His arrangements of both operas worked well as a scaled-down orchestration for the limited-size orchestra of 16 players who played magnificently throughout; the balance between the pit and the stage was just right, allowing the singers the breathing space that so many plead for!
The setting of Boheme was contemporary with the audience being greeted by a striking set by Dick Bird and atmospheric lighting by Colin Grenfell. It paid strict attention to detail, from neon lighting to Café Momus's menu – burgers, boisson and frites – consumed sitting at white plastic tables that sported tattered umbrellas. The cabaret proved to be just the ticket for the boys, too, featuring 'live girls' in a sex-fun show.
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Their flat – a brick warehouse resembling a 'squat' – reflected their bohemian lifestyle perfectly. Chaos reigned, complete with a busted microwave oven and electricity stolen from outside wires.
Tamsin Coombs, as Mimi, and Amos Christie, as Rodolfo, excelled in their roles. They brought out the anguish and torment of their characters in a most convincing and emotional way – even down to the last gasp! And Charlotte Ellett, as Musetta, was just the right girl to give the landlord a good run for his money while her boyfriend, Marcello, was admirably sung by Douglas Bowen.
The company's master carpenter, Bob Belsen, also found himself part of the action as the hot-dog seller. He wore earmuffs throughout. Perhaps he didn't like Puccini.
Vixen is a charming opera but, unlike Boheme, there's no big 19th-century 'shout' in it. It's more of an ensemble piece where the orchestra gets an equal share of the action with the singers.
The orchestra and singers responded to Peter Robinson's every nuance and this production certainly did the work great credit. It moved with ease, helped enormously by Bernadette Iglich's excellent and fluid choreography.
The bright acoustics of Snape also gave clear meaning to the English text, while the set by Joanna Parker – working, I should imagine, on a tight budget and for every conceivable type of stage – was imaginative, effective and practical.
Louise Walsh – feminine, waspish and agile as only a vixen can be – was cast perfectly in the central role, playing the part with a mean streak while Clarissa Meek sung the part of Mr Fox with great conviction.
She looked the part from top to tail and, hopefully, is now safe from the hunt! She was, simply, quite fantastic!
Roderick Earle as the headman/forester put in a commanding and authoritative performance in a production that, once again, shows the ingenuity and creativity of English Touring Opera.
They're an outfit who seem to be able to set up shop anywhere – whether it's in a concert hall or theatre – and simply make it work. Good for them!