REVIEW – White Horse Opera’s Top Of The Ops @Town Hall, Devizes – Friday 29th October 2021

Love Potions & Family Curses

by Andy Fawthrop

Another sign that things are slowly getting back to normal was the re-emergence on Friday night of the rarely-seen, but very talented, White Horse Opera with their first post-Covid presentation of the dodgily-titled show “Top Of The Ops” in the splendid surroundings of Devizes Town Hall.  I think the title was meant to be a play on words involving the word “opera”, but never mind.

The two-hour-plus show featured excerpts from two comic operas – Donizetti’s “L’Elisir D’Amore” (the Elixir of Love) and Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Ruddigore”, together with several other pieces.  The purpose in selecting these two particular operas was to highlight the fact that the company are planning to perform them both in full in 2022 – the Donizetti next October, and the G&S as a bookable touring production for local venues from Spring onwards.

But on Friday night (also reprised on Saturday night), the emphasis was on presenting a rich selection of items, and to get singing once more in front of a paying audience.  We kicked off with guest tenor Carlos Alonso leading the charge into the Donizetti, with strong support from in-house principals Lisa House and Stephen Grimshaw.  And before we reached the interval we had highlights from Mozart, Saint-Saens, Bizet, Gounod, and Borodin amongst others.  Paula Boyagis and Barbara Gompels were the stand-out performers here.

The Town Hall is a splendid venue for this sort of music, with its high ceiling, great acoustics, and plush formal decoration.  The only minor problem is the chandelier-based lighting, which makes it difficult to dim the lights in the audience whilst leaving the action on stage well-illuminated.  But this is a tiny quibble when compared to the overall glory of the historic surroundings.

On to the second half, which took more of a sideways step in its selection of items.  A particular highlight for me was Lewis Cowen’s rendition of Tom Lehrer’s “Masochism Tango”, which I discovered I was still nearly word-perfect on, but that’s just my particular perversion.  We also had pieces from Flanders & Swann, Kismet, West Side Story, and Little Shop of Horrors.  But the key pieces were from Gilbert & Sullivan’s fantastical comic opera “Ruddigore”, a particular favourite of mine.  This featured some nice solos from Chrissie Higgs and Jess Phillips, but with strong and fulsome support from the whole company.  Pianist Tony James, the sole musician, was impeccable in providing bright and upbeat accompaniment.

So by the end of the evening we were all au fait (and very well-acquainted!) with such musical technical terms as glissando (sliding from one note to another) and colatura (elaborate ornamentation).  I’m no expert, and couldn’t carry a tune if you gave me a large bucket, but I know what I like when I hear it, and I definitely liked all of tonight’s performance.  Not only did it sound good, but it was obvious that the performers were enjoying themselves, and the packed audience certainly appreciated it.  Great night out & amazingly good value for a tenner!

Future WHO events:

18th December                                 Fauré ‘s Requiem/ Christmas Concert7.30pm St John’s Church Devizes

Sat 8th Jan 2022                               Top of the Ops                                   7.30pm West Lavington Village Hall

Spring 2022                                        Ruddigore                                           7.30pm Venues TBA

26th, 28th & 29th Oct 2022          L’elisir d’amore                                 7.30pm Lavington School

More information on WHO is available at www.whitehorseopera.co.uk


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