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Friday, 11 June 2010

Opera Holland Park Presents Carmen

Poster from an 1896 American production

Holland Park is my favourite summer opera venue. Every visit promises to be magical. As a child I performed regularly with the company, and so feel at home within the theatre, but it is a pleasure to now sit and enjoy the operas as a member of the audience.

For those of you who haven't yet been, the theatre is located in the middle of the park. With picnic and bar areas it caters for those wishing to stay the whole evening to leisurely eat, drink and experience lovely music. On the occasional balmy summer evening, it is a pleasure to be outside rather than in a stuffy West End theatre. More often, when the weather is typically English and wet, it is advisable to bring a blanket or coat, although I often find I am kept warm by the spirit of the music.

On Monday night I was lucky enough to be given tickets to see Bizet's opera comique, Carmen. A boisterous opera set in Seville, telling the tale of a gypsy girl working in a cigarette factory. Carmen is a femme fatale who lures and tempts men to fall in love with her, an attitude that Hannah Pedley portrayed beautifully with her seductive performance. The part is written for a Mezzo-Soprano, unusual as the leading lady's part is more often written for a higher Soprano. Pedley's voice was dark in tone and rough around the edges, not to everyone's taste, but I loved it, and felt it added greater realism to the character. It helped that she looked perfect for the part, a scruffed up, red lipped version of the stunning Rachel Weisz.

The voice of the night for me though was Mark Panuccio, who played Don Jose. Each and every aria was sung beautifully with ease and control. Snagged in Carmen's web of destruction, the final scenes show Don Jose in an unbearable state of powerless misery. Even as he plunges a dagger into his lover we feel great sympathy for this poor wretch. It is a tricky part to play convincingly, Panuccio did it justice. Another notable singer was Susan Young playing Micaela, not a very meaty part but certainly one with some fantastic music. Special mention must go to the superb Helena Dix who stepped in at the last minute to sing the role of Frasquita from the orchestra pit, covering the brave Stephanie Bodsworth who continued to act onstage. The chorus were hearty and the children well rehearsed. Matthew Willis' conducting was fluent throughout, he handled the orchestra firmly to ensure all of the risky dance rhythms were kept in time.

There are six productions at Opera Holland Park this summer, so there is no excuse not to go along to at least one opera. If you are lucky you might even hear the peacocks in the park singing along.

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