The Opera Show Review

Festival Theatre, Malvern – 3rd December 2023

Reviewed by Courie Amado Juneau


Before we began, all I knew of tonight’s show was that it was a new opera made up of arias from existing works. As I entered the auditorium I noticed that there was no pit for the orchestra; just five music stands on stage. Intriguing. As a lover of smaller musical forces, what turned out to be a string quintet really piqued my interest, promising a fresh approach. Given the story was of a group of friends gathering for a party, this chamber ensemble worked a treat. In fact, whoever conceived the idea was a genius!

The musicians were all superb. With perfect balance and tone they really brought the works alive. Clean and precise, every detail of the composers intentions was revealed anew; like having an intimate snapshot of their original sketches fleshed out. I wish more opera was presented this way. The cast arrived at the party (on stage) from different areas – our host from backstage and the guests from the stalls. A fun way to start the piece as it gave the stars their individualistic entrances. The singers (Soprano Galina Averina, Mezzo Martha Jones, Tenor Richard Dowling and Baritone Tim Nelson) all had wonderful voices, being equally accomplished at their craft, giving us performances full of passion and drama throughout – including some fine dramatic and comic acting. They had a lovely rapport together and made a believable cast of friends and lovers. The opening overture perfectly set the scene of a joyous party. The arias had a logical flow, cleverly chosen to present an enjoyable narrative of unrequited love, ex’s mourning lost love and people wishing to avoid romantic entanglement. Everything one could hope for in a traditional opera, but here you had all that plus many “greatest hits” from the opera oeuvre. Indeed, one of the most impressive things is that music from such diverse periods (Handel Baroque to 20th century) hung together so seamlessly with no sense of jarring. This has to be a testament to the small ensemble soundscape, the performers themselves and the arrangements (from Artistic Director & Cellist Orlando Jopling). There was a rich, welcome, seam of humour running through the work; like Claudio’s running on “late” and many of the duets. The only thing I would have changed is I wish there’d been surtitles for those of us who aren’t multilingual. But that was a minor niggle since the arias were gifted to us so flawlessly.

The second half started with a suitably tipsy performance of Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 4. – and what a performance from violinist Sijie Chen. Spectacular doesn’t even begin to do it justice! Wow. The aria zenith moment was arguably the gorgeous “O mio babbino caro” (Puccini) – one of the most perfect ever written, in a show of non-stop opera highlights.

An unalloyed delight to hear such musical perfection in one short show. And the string quintet presentation was so brilliant I now want to hear all my favourite operas performed that way. Anyone not having attended really missed something special. Do yourself a favour and buy a ticket next time the Wild Arts group are in Malvern. I know I will. Party on Wild Arts!