Reviews

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In a dusty theatre about to be demolished, a reunion of former "Weisman's Follies" members takes place.

Memories are exchanged and former routines resurrected. Amid these, the troubled lives of Buddy and Sally, and Ben and Phyllis unfold.

Stephen Sondheim's musical is an affectionate look back at an era long past, as well as an incisive exploration of relationships. It's also a challenging production to mount and Southwick Opera successfully met that challenge.

Strong direction and a fine cast ensured the complexities of the storyline and the presence of ghostly counterparts of younger selves were clearly understood.

There were superlative performances from the four principals - Tania Newton was heartbreaking with her two big ballads, while Karen Orchin fully captured the cynicism of the emotionally abandoned Phyllis in Could I Leave You. Raw emotion was never far away from the comic shell of Steve Emery's excellent Buddy.

The show's climax has Ben, sensitively played by Jim Apted, having a breakdown, but the full impact of this was lost due to him being swamped by overcrowded staging.

A couple of solo spots needed to be stronger, however, this was a most welcome revival of a great show.

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Southwick Opera’s hilarous send-up of Greek mythology combined the classic legend with some clever modern refrences, drawing in Marilyn Monroe, How Clean is Your House. the Euro crisis and even Fifty Shades of Grey.

Stalwart Yvonne Fair got off to a slightly shaky start with the opening solo as Eurydice, but was soon back in full voice.

She delivered a highly entertaining duet in Act Two with Brian Jones as Jupiter, disguised as a fly, in which his part consisted entirely of buzzing.

The highlight of the evening was the jolly celebrations at the end of Act One as all the Gods headed off “on holiday”, to join Jupiter as he travelled to Hades to track down Eurydice and sort everything out.

It was signalled greater things to come, too, as Act Two was much more assured than Act One, thanks partly to a confident opening from Clive Connor as John Styx, Eurydice’s drunken jailer.

To follow, the whole company put in a high-energy performance for the Infernal Galop, better known as the music for the can-can, and the ladies kept up the high kicks to rapturous applause.

Other strong performances came from Laura Brookes as Diana, Kevin Starns as Orpheus, Jonathan Nulty as both Pluto and Aristaeus, Andrea Jones as Juno and Mike Lurcook as Mercury.

Cole Porter’s evergreen musical is an ambitious show to mount and Southwick Opera has to be congratulated on a creditable production.

The storyline is a show within a show, alternating backstage drama with an onstage musical version of The Taming Of The Shrew. Bickering co-stars may threaten the show’s success but an even bigger threat arrives when two gangsters appear to collect a gambling debt. However menacing they appear, their true purpose is to add comic relief, which they do in a classic point number – Brush Up Your Shakespeare.

The production is slick despite complex scene changes and over-large crowd scenes – all credit to Simon Gray’s direction. Live music is always a pleasure and having a large orchestra an added bonus. However it does at times cause problems, overpowering the vocals so the witty lyrics of Porter are lost. This problem is not helped by the sound system, which was very erratic on Tuesday evening.

The production is well served by its principals. Karen Orchin is splendid as Lilly/Katherine with her crystal clear voice whilst Rob Piatt’s Fred/Petruchio is a powerful singer more than capable of putting across his big numbers. Both had success with their solos for the haunting So In Love.

Marc Valentine proves to be not only a fine singer but also a dancer with comic flair, as he woos the fair Lois/Bianca played by Becca Watts – victim of the dodgy sound system at times. However, she has great success with the Tom, Dick And Harry number.

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Mozart’s famous comic opera is packed with plot, mysticism and its use of Masonic ritual was a chance to exploit their rites on the stage at a time when Masonry had been interdicted by Maria Theresa.

It tells of love, both pure and basic, with the trials and ordeals that had to be undergone before complete happiness could be achieved. Surrounding this is the battle between good and evil personified by The Queen Of The Night, powerfully sung by Lynn Deacon, and Sarastro, leader of the Brotherhood.

As the lovers, Yvonne Fair was in glorious voice as Pamina whilst Tony Adams, after a shaky and strained start in his first aria, improved in the role of Tamino.

Matt Clark not only had a strong voice of immense clarity but he also possessed the necessary comic ability that the part of Papageno requires. His duet with Marion Tinkler well deserved the applause it received. Praise is also due to the rest of the cast and the splendid chorus and the orchestra.

A major disappointment was the lack of fantasy in the costuming, particularly with the birdman – he appeared to have moulted and been left with only a couple of feathers.

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The Hungarian composer Franz Lehar's three act operetta 'The Merry Widow' was first produced in 1905. Since then it has enjoyed much popularity and is now benefiting from a revised translation by Jeremy Sams.

The unfolding drama is set in the French Embassy of a fictitious Balkan country ~ Pontevedro. The alluring widow Hanna Glawari is their wealthiest citizen and Baron Zeta is determined to hang on to her funds. However, she is hotly pursued by a string of Parisian suitors, thus forcing him to hatch a plan to put in place a romantic liaison using the dashing playboy Danilo as bait, to secure her fortune for Pontevedro.

Simon Gray (Director/Conductor) as usual has achieved another excellent production. His orchestra and large chorus have brought together the glitz and glamour of late nineteenth century Paris. Opening to an impressive set of sweeping staircase, glamorous costumes and Lehar's evocative score, this tale of flirtations and assignations, magical musical numbers and burlesque dancers, was an enchanting mix. Act II sees an eye-catching spectacle of colourful Bavarian style folk costumes, coupled with an impressive choreographed dance routine.

Karen Orchin taking the role of Hanna was powerful as the mature soprano, and looked impressive on her entrance in her elegant black 'widows weeds'. WeiHsiHun (Camille) the Canadian tenor was superb with his rich vocal tones. Leading man Rob Piatt (Danilo) gave an outstanding performance as the charismatic debonair Count and the highly accomplished young dancers completed this lively and dazzling spectacle, that was thoroughly enjoyed by a near capacity audience.

Director/Conductor Simon Gray has again excelled with this operatic double bill ~ staging one third of Puccini's Il Trittico - Suor Angelica and Pagliacci by Leoncavallo. The first being the heart rending story of a young mother of an illegitimate child forced to 'take the veil' by her cruel heartless relations for bringing shame on their noble family. Her aunt visits the convent to tell of the death of her child and the distraught nun poisons herself while imploring the Virgin Mary to forgive her for her sin.

An imposing set featuring a stone clad outer wall of the convent complete with iron gates, a beautiful statue of the Madonna + magnificent stained glass window, effectively lit from behind. A central floor area was also used to great effect as the 16 nuns went about their daily chores.

This all female cast did justice to this infrequently performed opera. Michele Restieux (The Princess - Angelica's Aunt), stunningly costumed, gave a fine performance in her cold austere role but Helen Hardwick triumphed as the troubled soul Angelica. Her powerful voice was truly inspiring in what must surely be one of Pucinni's most moving arias Senza mamma (Without your mother). Her poignant repentance to the Virgin brought this memorable production to an emotional climax.

Pagliacci opened the second half, and again using the central floor space to accommodate a vast ensemble of villagers and travelling players, brought an atmosphere of fun and excitement. However the merriment soon turns sour as the clown Tonio becomes ensnared into a love triangle and as the amorous relationship unravels resentment, bitterness and retribution are unleashed with tragic consequences.

The soloists were exceptional, opening with William Revels (Tonio) as the lovesick twisted clown. Karen Orchin (Nedda), a regular member of the company, as always brought her evocative character to life and sang with great clarity. The engaging Rob Piatt (Silvio) gave a convincing portrayal of the love interest, however the star of the show has to be Mark Lanahan (Canio) with his compelling rendition of Vesti la giubba (On with the motley). His ultimate betrayal and subsequent revenge brought this very professional and successful show to a conclusion.

Comes highly recommended and not surprisingly playing to a capacity audience.

A tale of love, hypocrisy and mistaken identities sailed into port as Southwick Opera presented an updated version of a Gilbert and Sullivan classic.  It was all aboard the SS Pinafore, adapted by director/conductor Simon Gray and James Clarke from the operetta HMS Pinafore. Set aboard a 1950s passenger liner rather than a battleship, the story lost nothing of its charm or entertainment value when it was performed at Southwick’s Barn Theatre last week.
Martin Clarke starred as Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty, who had fallen for Josephine, the charming daughter of the ship’s commander, Captain Corcoran (played by Yvonne Fair and William Revels respectively).
Southwick Opera newcomer Jonathan Nulty shone in the role of Ralph Rackstraw, the “common” sailor who captured Josephine’s true affections.
They were ably supported by Viv Aylward (chief purser Bill Bobstay), Alan Soutter (stoker Dick Deadeye), Alison Barak (Sir Joseph’s “cousin”, Hebe) and Anthea Myall (Little Buttercup).
Add into the mix the fine voices of the Southwick Opera chorus and the musical talents of the orchestra, and SS Pinafore was never destined to sink without trace.
Southwick’s Barn Theatre was packed for the show, featuring toe-tapping tunes, laughs coming thick and fast, and the trademark Gilbert and Sullivan twist at the end, righting all the wrongs and tying up the loose ends.
All in all, Southwick Opera’s latest offering was a steaming success, and provided a happy voyage for the hundreds who set sail with the crew during its run.

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A tale of passion, betrayal and lost love was played out on the stage in Southwick Opera’s latest production.
A five-night (albeit not continuous) run of Bizet’s classic opera Carmen – performed by Southwick Opera – began at the Barn Theatre, Southwick, on Saturday.
Southwick Opera favourite Tony Adams was again in fine voice, singing the part of Don José, as were his two loves – mezzo-soprano Hilary Jane Andrews (Carmen) and Katherine Nicholas (Michaela).
The part of toreador Escamillo was sung by baritone Philip Carter, who seamlessly slipped into the role – not to mention costume – of the bullfighter.
The lead characters were more than ably supported by a strong cast and the 30-strong Southwick Opera chorus, while the orchestra was presided over by director and conductor Simon Gray.
Humour, tragedy, fine acting and fine voices – what more could you want? A cameo from Southwick’s very own Des Young as the sheriff? Well, it had that too. Southwick Opera has now staged Carmen four times in its 43-year history, and the opportunity to see it in its current run should not be missed.

FAIRIES invaded Parliament – and Southwick’s Barn Theatre – in Southwick Opera’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe.
Updated for the present day, the story centred on Phyllis (Karen Orchin), a ward of court, forbidden to marry her sheep farmer boyfriend Strephon (Andy Hutchison) – who, unbeknown to her, is half fairy.
In director Simon Gray’s production, the two became Australian sheep farmers – and, to help with authenticity, Southwick Opera engaged the help of Australian actress Lucinda Cowden, who appeared as Melanie in Neighbours, as dialect coach.
Laughs came thick and fast straight from the off, with the chorus of “dainty little fairies” providing much amusement.
Martin Clarke was in fine form as the Lord Chancellor, with Tony Adams and William Revels also hilarious as two earls, both in love with Phyllis.
The strong cast also included Laura Brookes as Iolanthe, Alex White as parliamentary security guard Willis, Anthea Myall as the Queen of the fairies, and Charlotte Fane, Nicky Fane and Becky Scoble as three of her fairy troupe.
It would be unfair – and difficult – to single out any one cast member for special praise, as everyone gelled perfectly.
The show ended with everyone set to live happily ever after in Fairyland, but not until another entertaining song and dance routine had been completed.
Everything in the production seemed to work in harmony, from the musicians’ performance under the baton of Simon Gray, Jodie Harrop’s choreography and Mike Medway’s consistently impressive lighting design, to the cast members and chorus alike.
Gilbert and Sullivan may not necessarily be for highbrow opera enthusiasts, but one audience member, overheard after the show, pretty much summed it up: “You could probably find fault with it if you wanted to look,” she said, “but it was just so good.”

The first half of this evening consisted of excerpts sung by various members of the Society and chorus. To my mind, perhaps the most enjoyable piece was the “Flower Duet” from Lakme sung by Sarah Corp and Charlotte Shorthouse.
The second half consisted of an excellent performance of Mascagni’s one act opera “Cavalleria Rusticana”. The setting was imaginatively constructed showing the village square on two levels - the stage and foreground. Great thought had been given to ensuring the chorus acted as real people relating to each other throughout the performance.
‘Turiddu’ (Marcel Scerri) has a very powerful voice (perhaps a bit too much for the space) but how magnificent it would sound in a larger theatre. The rest of the cast ‘Santuzza’ (Yvonne Fair) ‘Lola’ (Charlotte Shorthouse) ‘Alfio’ (Frank Jordan) ‘Mamma Lucia’ (Anthea Myall) all sang well and acted throughout making the whole production completely convincing.
There was a moving setting of the Easter Hymn and a dramatic ending. The opera was accompanied on keyboard which gave an essential outline of the score.
Angela Goodall-Words and Music Issue 128

Abandoning their usual classical repertoire, Southwick Opera successfully takes on the challenge of musical theatre with this lively production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s tale of love and redemption.
Its marvellous score is choc-a-bloc with songs that have become well-loved standards.
Billy Bigelow, a restless fairground barker unable to support his wife, Julie, and family resorts to a bungled robbery which leads to his death.
In the afterlife he meets the Starkeeper, who allows him to return to Earth for one day to make amends to Julie and their daughter.
This production has a fine set of principals, led by Rob Piatt as Billy and Anne-Marie Forster, a last minute replacement, as Julie.
It is also blessed with a large ensemble which produces a glorious sound in the choral numbers.
Praise is due for the excellent choreography and the dancers who execute it.