Opera Meets House at Devizes Full Tone Festival

Featured image above by Gail Foster

It has been undeniably a variety music show at the Full Tone Festival this bank holiday weekend on the Green in Devizes, of tremendous proportions and matchless quality.

The stage I’ve previous dubbed “like something out of the Jetsons,” was once again erected, deckchair city assembled around it, with a bustling collection of food and drinks stalls beyond, and the sun with his hat on, shining down on all the shiny happy people.

It is a remarkable achievement and something to be truly proud of, to have here in our humble market town. The Full-Tone Orchestra taking their show to prestigious venues like Bath Abbey and Marlborough College, returned home, looking even more professional than ever. Conductor Anthony Brown waving his hands around like manual control of the world’s air traffic; it was, in a word, magical.

Highlights came thick and fast, Dominic Irving thrilled, heading a Tchaikovsky concerto on piano, for an opening of obligatory classical elements. The stage emptied as Will Foulstone took control of the keys, solo. Full Tone platforms young talent, like TikTok trumpeter Oli Parker, on Sunday, to an audience majority unlikely to know what TikTok is. Similarly, Will performed some videogame themes among Coldplay and contemporary pop, which is better in reality than it sounds to my generation bought up on ZX Spectrums or Mega Drives!

Will’s finale was an astounding cover of Elton John’s I’m Still Standing, and the orchestra realigned for a concentration of movie scores, largely dependent on the western themes of the late Ennio Morricone; liked this.

Then, BBC Introducing DJ skateboarder, James Threlfall took to digital wheels of steel and blasted the zone, and across the road to the chippy, with a set of contemporary and commercial high-energy house; lights came on blazing like the Green was the Ministry of Sound. Here is where I need to revert to my reviewing template, which resides on two major contributories. One is, did the event appease me personally, the second, more importantly is, did it do what it said “on the tin,” i.e., was it everything it posed to be. For the latter, the Full Tone Festival 2022 hit top marks, without a doubt. I watched the joy on hundreds of faces, as they danced the night away to James and the following Full-Tone Orchestra set of “nineties smash hits.”

The grand finale of Saturday night was certainly intrenched with nostalgia, perfected by an orchestra where no penny was left unexpended, no rehearsal was spent playing tiddlywinks, where the professionalism is first rate and the atmosphere was nothing short of sublime. The Full-Tone Festival was superb last year, this time around comes the typical stigma of a sequel, the “how can we ever top that” enquiry, and I’ve a duty to be honest, based upon the imperative Saturday evening, I’m not completely certain they did, on personal reflection, you understand?

Image: Gail Foster

Song choice at this conjunction was the only thing which let it down, for me. Started off okay, the Britpop beginning I can tolerate, but as it progressed to the pop hits of S Club 7, Britney Spears and Cher’s I Believe, et al, these, for me, were the excruciating pop slush of a generation below; I detested them at the time, and retain said detestation.

It was a far cry from the club anthems of last year’s, because that’s the point where creatively, electronic music technology truly challenged the orchestra. But, sigh, it’s all subjective, I told you about the hundreds of faces, didn’t I? They matter, it did what it said on the tin, with high gloss, it just wasn’t my cuppa.

Image: Gail Foster

I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to Sunday’s extension, we don’t all have bank holidays y’ know? But I can rest assured with the years of rock n roll experience of Pete Lamb’s Heartbeats, Kirsty Clinch’s angelic country vocals, and the fact Jonathan Antoine has been done BGT, it’d have been alright on the night.

Image: Gail Foster

Feedback on the orchestra’s big band showcase has been fantastic, with particular praise of vocalist Will Sexton. On opera, spellbinding local soprano who could turn even me to opera, Chloe Jordan, said, “it was my dream to sing ‘Song to the Moon ‘Resulka with an orchestra. Thank you so much to The Full Tone Orchestra for allowing that dream to come true!” And that, in a nutshell, is the kingpin to assessing this spectacular; if dreams come true there, you can’t argue how special an occasion it was.

Image: Gail Foster

Though the headcount was slightly lesser-so than last year’s, trouble to many events this, as a sad reflection on economic issues, here’s hoping this awesome weekend on the Green will be enough to convince Full Tone to make this a permanent fixture on our event calendar. Devizes loves you Full Tone, that much is certain.


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REVIEW: White Horse Opera’s Spring Concert @ The Town Hall, Devizes – Friday 18th March 2022

Opera Is Back!

by Andy Fawthrop

Friday was a beautiful, sunny day with clear blue skies, and it finally felt as if we were sloughing off the darker days of Winter.  The daffs and the snow-drops are out, which always makes it feel that Spring is well under way.  White Horse Opera couldn’t have timed things any better for their Spring Concert, and it was good of them to have ordered up such great weather.

Advertising for this event had been much better, and a virtually full room was the clear reward for that extra effort.  The audience were treated to a veritable selection box of operatic delights over a couple of hours, featuring items from Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti, Handel and Mozart in a dazzling first half.  Guest tenor Robert Felstead blended with the in-house company on several items, and was ably accompanied by solos from Paula Boyagis, Barbara Gompels, Charles Leeming and Lisa House.  The highlight for me was The Humming Chorus from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly beautifully rendered not on the stage, but from the close confines of the ante-chamber at the back of the room – very atmospheric!

The second half featured items from Donizetti and Rossini, but was mostly given over to my personal favourites – Gilbert & Sullivan.  There was one item from The Mikado, beautifully sung by Lisa House, but then several helpings of songs from Ruddigore (the operetta which will feature in WHO’s main 2022 programme).  Jon Paget and Jessica Phillips shared a charming duet, and there were strong performances from Charles Leeming and every one of the sopranos.

A delightful concert in a beautiful room.  Spring is back – and so is opera!

Future WHO events:

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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REVIEW – White Horse Opera’s Christmas Concert, including Faure’s Requiem @ St John’s Church, Devizes – Saturday 18th December 2021

Chilly Church Concert

Andy Fawthrop

I’m not sure why White Horse Opera are so shy of publicity, but I’d seen very little on social media that this event was even taking place.  Trusting that it was still on, I rocked up at the appointed time, and sure enough there was a gathering of those in the know.  The church was only about half full, and surely would have had a much bigger turn-out if there had been more advertising?  Given all the hard work that goes into rehearsal to produce these concerts to a very high standard, could I tactfully and very gently suggest that they work a bit harder on telling people about what they are doing? (They do usually contact us with news of forthcoming events, although not on this occasion, Andy; Ed.)

St John’s is wonderful old church, built and re-modelled at several stages through the ages, and makes for a challenging concert space.  The main body of the church, housing the pews with the masked-up audience, has a very high vaulted ceiling which creates a very big space to fill.  It also makes it difficult to heat at this time of the year, and I noticed that everyone was keeping their coats on.  So something of a chilly start.

The first half of the concert was a performance of Faure’s Requiem in D minor, Op. 48, composed in the late 19th century.  It’s a choral setting of the shortened Catholic Mass for the Dead in Latin, with a focus on eternal rest and consolation.  On this occasion the choral singers were accompanied only by solo piano played by Tony James.

I have to admit that this was a piece I was not familiar with, and (being honest) not one I’d have chosen as part of a Christmas concert.  Whilst delivered beautifully, voices soaring up into those lofty rafters, you can’t get away from the fact that it’s a very sombre piece.  Given the subject matter, that’s hardly surprising.  I personally found it rather difficult to follow and to enjoy, and was glad when the applause finally signalled that we had reached the interval.  Sorry – it’s not possible to enjoy everything, and this particular work didn’t really float my boat.

Unfortunately I had to leave at that point, as I had somewhere else to be, but hopefully the carols promised in the second half would have been more cheerful and uplifting.

Future WHO events:

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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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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Top of the Ops; White Horse Opera are Thrilled to be Back

White Horse Opera are thrilled to be back rehearsing for their forthcoming concert. They will be singing in a wonderful Gala Concert Devizes Town Hall on Friday 29th & Saturday 30th October at 7.30pm

A blend of Operatic Favourites and well known Songs from the Shows with Guest Tenor Carlos Alonso to thrill you with his amazing arias.

Tickets only £10 from Devizes Books 01380-725944 or online at www.ticketsource.co.uk/whitehorseopera

PREVIEW: White Horse Opera’s production of Bizet’s Carmen @ Lavington School – Wednesday 30th October, Friday 1st November and Saturday 2nd November 2019

This Opera Is For You!

Andy Fawthrop

Carmen is an opera in four acts by the French composer Georges Bizet, based on an original story by Prosper Merimee, first performed in 1875. It is written in the genre of opéra comique, with musical numbers separated by dialogue, and it shocked its early audiences with its breaking of social conventions. Nowadays it is one of the most popular, and frequently-performed, operas in the classical canon. And, of course, it features two very famous arias – the Habanera, and the Toreador Song.

It is set in southern Spain and tells the story of the downfall of Don José, a naïve soldier who is seduced by the wiles of the fiery gypsy Carmen. José abandons his childhood sweetheart and deserts from his military duties, yet loses Carmen’s love to the glamorous torero Escamillo, after which José kills her in a jealous rage. The depictions of proletarian life, immorality, and lawlessness, and the tragic death of the main character on stage, broke new ground in French opera and were highly controversial at the time.

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So – what have White Horse Opera done with this absolute classic of an opera? First up they’ve kept it simple. There are just four backdrops to represent the four locations of the four acts, the costumes are modern and unfussy, and there are very few props. This allows the music, the singing and the acting to speak for itself. It’s also sung in English to keep it very accessible. Even the orchestra is a stripped-back unit of only seven musicians + conductor.

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Stand-out performances came from all the leads – there are no weak links here – Paula Boyagis as Carmen, Phillip Borge as Don Jose, Jon Paget as Escamillo, Barbara Gompels as Micaela, Brian Brooks as Zuniga and Graham Billing as Morales. But the cast has strength in depth, with some fine support work from Jess Phillips, Bryony Cox, Lisa House, Stephen Grimshaw and Robin Lane. The only wooden thing on the stage (making a key contribution to Act 2) was one of the benches from The Vaults!

I enjoyed the production a lot. It had pace, passion and a great freshness. Why wouldn’t you? – the story involves love, smuggling, jealousy, seduction, and death! Definitely worth the trip out to Lavington School.

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Ticket sales have been strong, but there are still some tickets left for the three performance – tonight (Wednesday 30th Oct), Friday 1st November and Saturday 2nd November. NOTE – there is NO performance on Thursday night.


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Bizet’s Carmen at Lavington

White Horse Opera will be performing Bizet’s Carmen at Lavington School Wed 30th Oct, Fri 1st & Sat 2nd Nov at 7.30pm.

The secret of Carmen’s success is its excitingly exotic setting in and around magical Seville, its devastatingly passionate story charting the downfall of two people pole-axed by love, and the ravishing music whose impact is both immediate and lasting.

Paula Boyagis plays the fiery, seductive gypsy Carmen, Don José is being played by Phillip Borge who is flying in specially from Gibraltar! Barbara Gompels plays Micaela, his childhood sweetheart. The dashing bullfighter Escamillo will be played by Jon Paget.

Fully staged sung in English with an excellent professional orchestra.

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Tickets on sale now from Devizes Books and online at
www.ticketsource.co.uk/whitehorseopera

Book early to avoid disappointment.


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PREVIEW – White Horse Opera sing Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado” – Saturday 15th June @ St Mary’s Church, Devizes

A Bit of Nanki-Poo in The Vize

By Andy Fawthrop

 

Do you like opera? What about “light” opera? With rather a lot of comedy thrown in? Good – because you’re really going to love this!

Last night I was privileged to attend the full dress rehearsal for “The Mikado” by the splendid White Horse Opera company. I was expecting something perhaps still a little rough round the edges, maybe the odd fluffed line, the occasional note or cue to be missed, but there was really none of that. The company had been rehearsing for months, had chosen their principals carefully, and were absolutely up for it.

Yet again – another gem in the entertainment crown of Devizes – we are so lucky to have these people doing this stuff!

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This particular bit of nonsense, a “comic opera” in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and words by W.S. Gilbert, their ninth of fourteen operatic collaboration, opened in March 1885, in London, where it ran at the Savoy Theatre for 672 performances, the second-longest run for any work of musical theatre, and one of the longest runs of any theatre piece up to that time. Since then it’s been translated into numerous languages, and is one of the most frequently played musical theatre pieces in history. The setting is Japan, an exotic locale far away from Britain, which allowed Gilbert to satirise British politics and institutions more freely by disguising them as Japanese. And the company has done an excellent job of the now-traditional exercise in updating the lyrics of some songs to reflect politics Britain in 2019. Particularly pointed was Ko-Ko’s (The Lord High Executioner’s) song about who he’d like to execute (“I’ve got a little list, and they’ll none of them be missed”).

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It’s always difficult, and sometimes a little invidious, to pick out individual performances but I think it’s worth mentioning particularly Graham Billing, who delivered a hilariously nervous and dithering Ko-Ko, Charles Leeming as a wonderfully pompous and self-important Pooh-Bar (Lord High Everything Else), Lisa House as Yum-Yum, and the resilient Ian Diddams, playing The Mikado splendidly as a power-crazed modern dictator. But there were strong performances all round, from every member of the cast. It was so obvious that they were thoroughly enjoying what they do, delivering a top-notch production.

I’m not going to give the plot away, nor would I even attempt to summarise the complicated ins and outs leading to the hilarious denouement – suffice to say that the story is stuffed with disguises, mistaken identities, the fickleness of emotions, and the usual human drivers of fear and greed. The main characters ham it up splendidly, and deliver the songs with confidence and panache, squeezing every last drop of comedy out of the script.

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Given that it’s performed in modern dress, sung in English, and is a laugh-a-minute, it’s completely accessible and enjoyable. So, even if you thought that you didn’t like “opera”, I can assure you that you are going to love this. Thoroughly entertaining stuff!

It’s going to be performed on Saturday 15th June at St Mary’s church at 7.30pm. Tickets are an absolute bargain at only a tenner, and are available via Ticketsource or the company’s website at
https://whitehorseopera.co.uk/

mik

Future productions by WHO include:

• Wednesday 30th Oct to Saturday 2nd November @ Lavington School – Bizet’s “Carmen”
• Tuesday 17th December – venue TBA – Christmas Concert
• Friday 20th March 2020 – venue TBA – Spring Concert

And if you’re interested in getting involved yourself, whether singing, playing or behind the scenes, just head over to their website. You can also support them by becoming a “Friend” of the company for £20 p.a. Remember – they are an amateur company, supported by volunteer efforts and by voluntary contributions from their supporters.

 

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A Night At The Opera!

 

The White Horse Opera’s Magic Flute, Reviewed by Andy Fawthrop

 

No – not a night with the Marx Brothers or a Queen concert, but an actual night at the opera! And in Devizes too – well it was Lavington School actually (no passport required) – to see the wonderful White Horse Opera’s 2018 production of Mozart’s most-loved opera The Magic Flute.

 
This two-act opera is a classic tale of good and evil, of love and loss, serpents, fairies, magical queens, spirits, sorcerers, castles, magic flutes and….well, you get the picture. Just the normal, classic stuff of your average opera.

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And this production was bang on. Well sung, well acted and well (musically) played by a dedicated (and very talented) company of amateurs, this was an extremely enjoyable night. By singing in English, using modern dress and a minimalist set, the team made the story accessible and easy to follow for a non-opera buff like myself. Mozart’s music, as ever, is light and lyrical. The libretto is straight-forward, eschewing the usual long miserable and repetitive arias so favoured by some composers, so things move along quite briskly.

 
Particular shout-outs last night:

 
• to Matthew Bawden who, playing the lead role of Tamino, had only taken up and rehearsed the role within the last ten days or so when his predecessor had to drop out due to unforeseen circumstances. He sang and acted well, betraying no sign whatsoever of being short of practice;

 
• to Barbara Gompels, playing the Queen of the Night, (not for the first time in her career) for her pitch-perfect delivery of some of Mozart’s most demanding soprano parts;
• to Chrissie Higgs for not only shuffling around the stage playing a shambling old lady in one of the chorus parts (frighteningly convincing!) but for the fact that she directed the whole production;

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But, to be honest, I didn’t spot any weak links at all – either in the cast or in the orchestra. A fine all-round production.

 
White Horse Opera is based in Devizes and was founded back in 1990. It produces both static and touring versions of many classic operas. It’s supported through sponsorship, fund-raising events and by ‘Friends’ of the Company. It’s all done on a voluntary, amateur basis – which makes it worthy of everyone’s support. It’s yet another jewel in Devizes’ crown.

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This production has its last two performances tomorrow (Friday) and on Saturday, for which there are still just a few tickets left. So, if you haven’t already done so, make plans to get yourself out to Lavington and have yourself a great night out! And – reviewer’s tip here – get yourself one of the padded seats!

 

White Horse Opera Website

 

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