Our Town

17 Jun

I like going to the Guildhall. They have a habit of doing operas that I haven’t seen before and the performance standards are often pretty high and you can, now and then identify some talent.  I was there when Bryn Terfel sang Macrobio in Pietra del Paragone in the 1980s and, my recently, it’s been nice to see Nicky Spence – quite a star of a few performances there – getting his career going quite nicely.

The latest production was Our Town by Ned Rorem – a UK premiere. I saw the performance on 6th June. It’s rather a lovely piece. I don’t know the Wilder play but this struck me as a very charming, effective working of it. It presents a portrait of a group of people in a small US town – the doctor, the editor and their families. The opera, I think, differs from the play in that it majors on the central relationship between the doctor’s son, George, and the editor’s daughter, Emily. Their courtship and love is very nicely done and gives a centre to the opera.  The opera moves from a moderately light, comic opening to a very much darker, more surreal ending as the dead Emily tries to go back in time and then finds that this is too much for her.

The musical idiom is gentle US 20th century with echoes of Copland. In George’s music, I was reminded quite a lot of Albert Herring and Rorem has Britten’s skill at setting words.  The orchestra is small and kind to the voices – and there’s lots of fun for them. It was originally performed by students and it makes a good piece for them. I think it would be lost ina a large house, but it would be a perfect piece for the Linbury or Glyndebourne’s Jerwood studio.

It was given a really fine ensemble performance. It was very clearly directed by Stephen Medcalf and he got a set of really good characterisations from the cast.  Wilder didn’t want elaborate sets and props – the characters mimed, very successfully.  You didn’t need sets (nor, particularly, the quotes from the play projected onto the walls – the singers acted and concentrated well.  Their diction was clear and the audience was following: I love being part of an audience that’s listening and watching, rather than reading.

There wren’t many stars, but it isn’t that sort of opera.  However, I thought Stuart Laing showed masses of charm and authority as the Stage Manager, who acts as our guide to the town. Barnaby Rea showed a strong, very pleasing bass as Dr Gibbs, Luis Gomes had oodles of charm and a nice, young tenor voic e as George. It was a shame that Sky Ingram was ill.  She acted Emily, while Lucy Hall sang the role really well from the pit.

Clive Tims conducted with his usual authority:  just looking at the biographies reminded me that he and Medcalf have been responsible for some of my most memorable experiences at this address.

This was one of those performances where there was no need to make any allowances for the fact that we were watching students.  I was pleased to have seen it, and the opera.  It’s a shame that, because of it’s large-ish cast combined with a chamber approach, it’s not likely to be done that often. But it would be nice if one of the festivals or other companies gave it a go as fringe event.  It would be worth going to. It’s a really enjoyable, strong piece.


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