Thursday 11 March 2010

Apollo et Hyacinthus, Rose Opera Company, 10 March 2010

Rose Theatre, Bankside

Oebalus – Andrew Boushell
Hyacinthus – Zoe Bonner
Melia – Eleanor Briggs
Apollo – Alison Nicholls
Zephyrus – Georgina-Rosanna Murray
Ensemble – Rebecca Ramsey, Chloe Morgan, Alex Mai, James Priest

Eleanor Briggs (director)

Rose Opera Orchestra
James Williams (conductor)

This is where it all began, with an intermezzo to accompany a five-act tragedy. Both intermezzo and tragedy, Clementia Croesi were written in Latin, their words penned by the Salzburg Benedictine Gymnasium teacher, Rufinus Widl. Here the Rose Opera Company performed Mozart’s contribution in the original Latin, without titles, and yet succeeded in communicating the plot, with a little help from one’s memory, one’s rusty Latin, and/or one’s programme synopsis (delete as appropriate). Opportunities to hear Apollo et Hyacinthus, KV 37, are unlikely ever to be frequent. Yet Mozart’s first opera is fully worthy of the occasional production, far more so than a number of works that bafflingly continue to hold the stage in our major opera houses. The present production, for a very small stage, made imaginative use of a small number of props, eighteenth-century costumes proving stylish and apposite.

Mozart, of course, wrote for boys, but here we had a mixture of young men and women. All of the singers had their strengths and crucially of them enunciated the text clearly, their diction an object lesson to many more established artists. If one singer stood out it was the multi-tasking Eleanor Briggs, not only the director of the production, but also the founder of the company, whose inaugural production this is. Her bright, flexible soprano coped extremely well with Mozart’s challenging coloratura. One wonders what on earth he thought he was doing writing such music for a cast aged between twelve and twenty-three, but the eleven-year old composer did not have a great deal of stage experience behind him. The arias were indeed generally well taken, the odd slip rarely detracting from the joy expressed in Mozart’s invention. He may not yet have developed his extraordinary genius for characterisation, but the music is surprisingly expressive, putting most of his contemporaries to shame. It was particularly impressive to hear such an estimable balance between individuality and blend in the ensemble singing.

Moreover, to prevent attention from waning during the recitatives was a signal achievement, for which James Williams, conducting from the harpsichord, must be awarded considerable credit. Indeed, his continuo realisation was consistently flexible and inventive. The only real blemish was the often scrawny and out-of-tune playing of the tiny orchestra, the strings in particular, which sometimes contributed to disconnection between band and stage. Whilst generally spirited, there were moments when one simply could not ignore painful intonation – perhaps a consequence of the cold temperatures on the site of Bankside’s oldest playhouse? Excavations continue beneath the temporary playing space, and the Rose Opera Company is donating the proceeds from ticket sales to the Rose Theatre Trust.

For further details concerning the Rose Opera Company, click here, and for the Rose Theatre, click here.