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
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
Everyone having a nice March so far, been alright, innit? I promised, when I featured the first fortnight of events, here, that I would return to complete the last two weeks. I’ve promised this before and totally spaced on it, for which I apologise; not enough hours in the day. Nothing to do with my goldfish memory. Here though, this month, I’ve actually only gone and done it, before the 31st March too! See below if you don’t believe it’s true, the last fortnight in March, stuff to do while waiting for the supermarkets to restock on bog roll, and all that. I know, it scares me sometimes too.
Bear in mind, mind, our calendar is constantly updating, so do check in as more events and gigs are bound to magically appear like the shopkeeper in Mr Ben.
Sunday 15th is where we were up to, and I got two fantablous gigs, Burbank are the White Bear in Devizes, while Jon Amor is at the Three Horseshoes in Bradford on Avon; nice.
Monday, I never know if the Devizes Folk Club is on down the Lamb or not, to be frank, but it’s a place for a beer if I’m wrong and it’s not!!
Tuesday 17th The Stonehenge lecture at the Wiltshire Museum is now sold out. Celebrated cartoonist and artist, Norman Thelwell is at The Merchant’s House in Marlborough, for a fascinating hour illustrated talk, tracing his life, passions and artistic development. Thelwell produced 1,500 cartoons and 60 front covers for the famed Punch magazine alone and some 32 books translated into a dozen different languages. His works were full of beautifully observed detail and mainly of rural subjects, including country and leisure pursuits, sport, house sales and renovation, stately homes, gardening and sailing. Failing that, Cracknakeel provides live music at The Sun in Frome for their St Patrick’s Day celebration.
Wednesday 18th is jam-packed, for a Wednesday! Acoustic jam down the Southgate, Devizes. Bromham’s Farm Cookery School has a Taste of Morocco class, where you could be learning how to make a Briouat which is like a Moroccan Samosa, make your own Khobz and Kefta Mkaouara. £40.00 per person. Over in Marlborough David Evans gives the second of three lectures in The Merchant’s House Study Series, focussing on Reformation in England and the Arts. The Roots Sessions continues at Frome’s Cheese & Grain with the fantastic Ruzz Guitar’s Blues Revue.
Thursday 19th and you could be back down The Farm Cookery School in Bromham for a Mozzarella & Halloumi Masterclass with Josie. She will teach how to make both cheese which is technical but fun! £35.00 per person. The fantastic Ed Byrne is at the Bath Forum and Moles has a punky/metal night with the Anarchist’s Bookfair, Butter The Pavement and Out Of Reach.
If it’s a slow start to the week, Friday 20th March makes up for it. If, like me, all you know about Jesus Christ Superstar is that he came down from heaven on a Yamaha, and you have doubts with your conviction of that, it’s the opening night for this amateur production by arrangement with The Really Useful Group Ltd at Devizes’ Wharf Theatre. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical portrayal of the last seven days of the life of Christ as seen through the eyes of Judas Iscariot runs until Sat 28th March and while tickets are still available as I write this, do be as quick, as if you were on a Yamaha yourself; take care not to skid though!
Meanwhile Devizes Town Hall is the place to head for opera fans, as The White Horse Opera presents their Spring Concert. Including Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore, Ruddigore by Gilbert and Sullivan and Hadyn’s Creation, this would be the perfect introduction to opera for those, like me, who thought Donizetti was a type of pasta sauce!
If you fancy music more pop, the local supergroup I’m always raving about, the Female Of The Species play Melksham’s Assembly Hall. Fusing all their respective band’s influences, expect the best of rock, soul and ska as the girl’s combine forces for a fun-filled gig; I’ve been to see one of these shows and I’m not hyping it up because they’re all awesome chicks, I highly recommend it!
Day one of two, at the inspiring Shoebox Theatre in Swindon of their FUSE Festival where six emerging artists test a new performance idea over three days. Fuse is about supporting the beginnings of new work before it’s fully developed. Watch, discuss, and be part of the creation of something brilliant. Two performances Kat Lyons’ Dry Season, interweaving music and movement with original spoken word poetry and extracts from medical literature. And the debut one-woman-show from Mighty Mammal Theatre, Swine of the Times, where you can meet the piggies at the troff; they sing songs, say prayers and even mime. Alice Wolff-Whitehouse employs her skills in physical comedy, dance and song to bring to life a series of flawed and quintessentially British characters, looking at the grotesque nature of privilege in the UK through a warped and colourful lens.
Staying in Swindon, Baila Coffee & Vinyl have some Disco Voodoo with DJ Amir, or try indie rock covers with Joli & the Souls at the Vic. Elsewhere, the Leathers play The Three Horseshoes in Bradford on Avon, Clannad are at Bath Forum, and Jack Dee’s Off The Telly tour is at Salisbury City Hall.
Saturday 21st then. After the hugely successful free concert in the Market Place last summer, The Full Tone Orchestra have taken their show to Marlborough, and return to town to rave the night away at the Corn Exchange. Taking the most popular section of their show, the club anthems, expect this to be something innovative and all glowsticks, as conductor Anthony Brown’s beloved orchestra reproduce the club classics which defined an era.
The Cavalier go country with the Stone Mountain Sinners, caught these guys before, they’ve a refreshing approach to country-rock which is a cut above the rest. And breezy, original songwriter Ed Witcomb makes a welcome return to The Southgate. For surf beats, odd time signatures, eccentric tunes and irony-fuelled free jazz, try The Barge at Honeystreet, where bonkers surf surrealists Mustard Allegro do their stuff.
Super Trooper Abba tribute, Sensations grace the Seend Community Centre, while Swindon’s Meca has a Whitney Houston tribute. Don’t forget though, it’s day two of the Shoebox’s Fuse Festival too.
Mercy Lounge at The Three Horseshoes, Bradford on Avon. Recommended ska night at Warminster’s Prestbury Sports Bar with the Train To Skaville, and Paul Carrick is at Bath Forum.
Head to the Southgate for an afternoon pint or three, on Sunday 22nd, and our fantastic singer-songwriter Vince Bell will entertain you. Meanwhile, Groovelator play The Three Horseshoes in Bradford.
Tuesday, Devizes Film Club at the Town Hall have the latest Ken Loach film, Sorry We Missed You, which you will be if you miss this one film fans. Full of drama, tension and heartbreak. Ricky and Debbie are the parents of teenage children. Ricky joins the ‘gig’ economy with a franchise for a parcel delivery firm. The job is sold to him as one where he will become master of his own destiny. Providing, that is, he complies with the labyrinth of deadlines, rules and conditions imposed by the company, a near impossible task. Debbie is a care worker who wants to care for the old people as though they are her Mam. But her working conditions thwart her in doing the job as she thinks fit. This modern Dickensian story dramatises the conflict between work and family life in contemporary Britain.
Don’t forget Wednesday’s acoustic Jam down the Southgate, and blues-folk singer Elles Bailey is with Phil King at the Chapel Arts, Bath. Thursday you can witness epic human-powered feats, life-affirming challenges and mind-blowing cinematography on the big screen at The Banff Mountain Film Festival world tour, coming to the Salisbury City Hall. Staying in Devizes on the last Thursday of every month though is no bore, as the regular and celebrated open mic night at the Cellar Bar is something to behold.
Seventies punk bands never had such a great name as Brighton’s Peter & The Test Tube Babies. Still going strong forty years on, they play the Vic in Swindon on Friday 27th. Tenner on the door. Swindon also has an Improv Jam at The Shoebox, and homemade function band Locomotion at the Swiss Chalet.
While it’ll sadly never be possible for the boys to be back in town, Preston’s tribute Twin Lizzy will. They make a welcomed return to the Cavalier, Devizes on Friday. Meanwhile, the Devizes & District Twinning Association take over the town hall to bring us some French Café Music with Jac & Co, tickets are also a tenner for both these diverse evenings.
How much more diverse do you want? A dedicated club night for adults with Learning Disabilities? This Is Me at the wonderful charity youth centre, Young Melksham is precisely that, a night of great music and friendship. There’s a series of these events, first one is Friday.
Another welcomed return to Marlborough Folk-Roots at the Town Hall on Friday, when Steve Knightley explores the themes and stories that inspire him and shows how music and words can become lyrics and chords and notes can meld to create songs that acquire a life of their own.
For want of an authentic tribute band, From The Jam play The Cheese & Grain in Frome, and I’ve heard all good stories about them. If originals are what you want though, The Queen’s Head in Box has a double-booking Friday. Katy Hurt stretches the country music genre in exciting new directions; haunting blues vocals, towering country rock guitars, even a reggae vibe, and she is followed by psychedelic alternative rock band, The Bohemian Embassy.
Saturday night of the 28th March is alright, but no fighting, please. Time for the Devizes Lions’ Spring Concert at St Andrew’s Church, where Ian Diddams comperes Bath Coleman, Bangers & Nash, and the Trowbridge & District Youth Band. Tickets are £10, proceeds to Wiltshire Young Carers.
The Corn Exchange has a Gin Festival. Tribute act, Motley Crude are The Cavalier and local heroes Rockhoppaz play The Black Swan. For high octane original and classic rock mixed with some tasteful Bluesy tracks, check the Mark Smallman Band at the Southgate.
Devizine is the unofficial Tamsin Quin fan club, if you wanna hear why, head to Bromham’s Owl on Saturday. Another Abba Tribute, Swede Dreams play Market Lavington Community Hall.
Highly recommended for the mods, The Roughcut Rebels are at The Pheasant in Chippenham. Also, Blondie & Ska are great fun, they’re at the Wiltshire Yeoman in Trowbridge, checking ahead, they play in Devizes, at the Pelican in May. The Blue Rose Band at The Westbury Conservative Club and an Amy Winehouse tribute at Bath’s Odd Down AFC & Social Club. Level III have a “One Step Beyond-ska and punk club-night.
Elsewhere in Swindon, homemade Damm at Coleview Community Centre and P!nk tribute, Beautiful Trauma play Brookhouse Farm, and a Pearl Jam tribute, Earl Jam at the Vic.
Sophie Matthews explores the links between the visual and the aural in a one-hour presentation at the Merchant’s House, Marlborough. Drawing on the works of great painters including Brueghel, Hogarth and Rigaud, Sophie presents a feast of images featuring historical woodwind instruments in their original social context interspersed with live performances of historical music using authentic instruments.
Sunday 29th – Nearly there, and breath…. Yin Yoga & Gong Bath at Devizes Corn Exchange, The Sunday Sessions continue at The White Bear with Matt Cook and Gary Hall at The Southgate. There’s a Comic-Con at Bath Pavilion, to be frank, it’s a commercial affair rather than a genuine “comic” con, with cosplay, gaming and meeting vague TV actors and ex-Gladiators, but might be fun for the kids.
That’s it, folks, March done, save Bradford on Avon Folk Club have Geoff Lakeman on Tuesday 31st. Let’s regroup in April, but feedback on these articles are needed. Do they work for you? Long-winded I know, but in order to fit it in. Devizine is a work in progress, I enjoy and need to know what’s working and what’s not. So, if you’ve read this far, I salute you! Tell me about it!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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”).
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.
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/
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.
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.
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;
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.
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!