unquestionably a need for a company such as this on London’s operatic
scene; they continue to fly the flag for works which would not otherwise be
performed, and are almost unique in offering these obscure works in staged
performance rather than in concert.
The company exists independently of the academic functions of University
College London, which does not even have a music department; instead the
company draws its large and enthusiastic amateur chorus, orchestra and lesser
principals from the University College Union Music Society, and hires in
young professional artists for the leading roles – alumni include
Felicity Lott, Robert Lloyd and Jonathan Summers, and Charles Mackerras
served briefly as Musical Director during the 1950s.
Die Hochzeit des Camacho was written by Mendelssohn between the ages of
fourteen and sixteen. It is a lively, folksy comic opera based on an episode
from Don Quixote, about a conspiracy on the part of the young and amiable
Basilio to save his beloved Quiteria from a forced marriage to the wealthy
but unprepossessing Camacho. After many complications, some largely pointless
interventions by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, and a faked suicide, Basilio
gets the girl; her father and Camacho accept their union and all live happily
The production, by Duncan McFarland, was set in the context of a bedtime
story being told to a young boy (Oliver Kirk) by his nurse (Liz Lea). This
gave the feel of a cosy Christmas family movie. Christopher Giles’s set
was simple but imaginative and versatile, with three brightly-coloured moving
wooden huts transforming the stage from the child’s nursery into all
manner of different locations. There were bright, attractive costumes for the
young cast too.
The opera was sung in English, and the best individual performances came
from two fine tenors – medical student Hal Brindley gave a strongly
sung and charming account of Basilio’s sidekick Vivaldo, while
postgraduate linguist James Crawford gave an excellent characterisation of
the eponymous Camacho (really quite a minor role). Stephen Brown’s
Basilio and James Harrison’s Carrasco (Quiteria’s father) also
sang well; Håkan Vramsmo’s Sancho Panza was likeable and smoothly sung.
But elsewhere there were problems; Margaret Cooper’s Quiteria was
strong in the upper register but weak in the middle; her conventionally
operatic soprano was inadequately balanced by Sarah Rea’s treble-like
Lucinde. The veteran professional bass Deryck Hamon was seriously stretched
in the role of Don Quixote. Projection of dialogue was problematic for
professional and amateur soloists alike; sometimes the singing was inaudible
too. The chorus was excellent, but the biggest problem was the orchestra, an
amateur ensemble, whose timing and tuning were simply painful at times
despite Charles Peebles’s poised and well-phrased direction.
This is the fifth UC Opera production I have seen, some with high musical
standards. This was far from the best. Perhaps they will fare better in 2008
with Lalo’s Fiesque.
Ruth Elleson © 2007