Review: Written on Skin / Oliver Zeffman / Melos Sinfonia

Oliver Zeffman and Jack Furness’ production of George Benjamin’s three part opera Written on Skin is a bit of a treat.

The considerable forces of the Melos Sinfonia combined with a supple vocal ensemble made light work of Benjamin’s efficient but uncompromising opera. A compelling watch.

Ross Ramgobin’s Protector was a proud man, strutting, posturing and posing, full of his own self-importance – a man deliciously destined for a fall.

His wife – Agnes – was a taut, tense, and dangerous creation – an effortless triumph for soprano Lauren Fagan’s, whose laser-like precision was remarkable.

Patrick Terry delivered sensuous melodic lines with an exquisitely alluring voice – a man who, quite frankly, could sing the contents of a pizza menu and I’d still listen with rapt attention. I wasn’t entirely sure about the tight grey shorts and ankle-length lace-up boots (a minor point).

Nick Pritchard and Bethan Langford switched between Chorus of Angels and Marie/John effortlessly. (Good to see Bethan will be attending next year’s Verbier Festival Academy.)

Conductor Zeffman has been heralded in the mainstream press and is already benefiting from valuable relationships in the classical music world. His baton technique is precise, and his confidence on the platform captivating. The clean beat and confident cues are alluring for those of us who derive joy from order, but I’d like to see himself out of his comfort zone and allow some of his own personality spill out just a little bit.

There were moments when the orchestra could have been a little tighter – some fast passages in the strings were in need of a tighter sense of ensemble – and there were a few occasions when the fortissimos felt a little too intense. The brass was blistering; the sequence with the glass harmonica spellbinding.

But these are piffling points made in a desperate attempt to demonstrate a sense of objectivity.

Benjamin’s opera is brilliant, the music utterly absorbing, and the ensemble work in Zeffman and Furness’ resourceful production electrifying.

Performances to follow on Friday 20 October at LSO St Luke’s, London, and at Mariinsky Concert Hall in St Petersburg on Sunday 22 October.



Albert Herring / RCM International Opera School – Cast One / Britten Theatre

The Royal College of Music International Opera School’s production of Albert Herring is running at the Britten Theatre, Prince Consort Theatre in early July.

This is the first of two posts (the second will be published on Thursday next week) about the production and features on Cast One’s opening night.

The Britten Theatre provided an intimate setting for an unexpectedly immersive performance of Britten’s comic opera. An enlightening production enhanced with assured performances, insightful direction and rich set designs.

The most striking element in this production was the presence of a silent antagonist – The Outsider (Michael Taylor Moran). The Outsider – a 50s rocker bedecked in obligatory 501s and black leather jacket. The character added sexual tension to proceedings, first in a tender moment in the shop in the first act, and later in the final scene when Albert returns from his night of debauchery wearing the leather jacket himself.

The Outsider was an ingenious addition, tackling the ambiguity of Albert Herring’s overnight disappearance and the fabricated debauchery in the denouement. He was also a pragmatic way of providing dramatic interest in long musical interludes.

The presence of The Outsider achieved more.  It moved the comic opera from its traditionally ‘twee’ setting into something far more vibrant: post-war society on the cusp of sexual revolution. It also made Albert desirable. When The Outsider later turned down a solicitation by town mayor Mr Upfold, Albert’s status as a gay man in search of his first kiss was firmly established.

Nick Pritchard as Albert Herring. Photography (c) Chris Christodoulou

Nick Pritchard’s Albert was adorable – funny, self-aware and forgivable. A hero we wanted to see go out on an all-nighter and come back transformed.

Nicholas Morton as Sid, and Angela Simkin as Nancy. Photography (c) Chris Christodoulou

Sid (Nicholas Morton) and Nancy’s (Angela Simkin) effortless chemistry illustrated how the new generation considered themselves set aside from the traditions upheld by their self-righteous forebears. In the first scene of Act Two  Nancy gently chastised her Sid for sneering at proceedings. This made their sub-plot a whole richer, preparing us for the conflict they would both inevitably face when Nancy later realised the extent of Sid’s ‘cruel’ nature.

All the cast turned in outstanding performances. All of the voices sparkled in the Britten Theatre, most notably Natasha Day’s Miss Wordsworth, Janis Kelly’s Lady Billows and Nick Pritchard’s Albert.

Special mention to Joel Williams (second from right in the top picture) for a well-observed and brilliantly obsequious Mr Upfold,  brimming with awkward mannerisms belying a darker secret.

And Polly Leech (second from left in the top picture) whose Florence Pike succeeded in painting an entirely different take on the town bigwigs, making Lady Billows appear forgiving and compassionate in comparison to her assistant’s eager and supercilious judgments and moralising.

The Royal College of Music International Opera School’s production runs until Wednesday 8 July, with performances on 4th and 6th (Cast Two) and 8th (Cast One) July 2015. Book tickets on the Royal College of Music website.

All pictures are the copyright of the marvellous Chris Christodoulou.