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Performances

Felix Mendelssohn
28 Mar 2007

Camacho’s Wedding (Die Hochzeit des Camacho)

UC Opera now have a half-century’s reputation to live up to; they were responsible for the UK premieres of such works as Das Liebesverbot, The Maid of Orleans, Alzira, Oberto and the 1847 version of Macbeth.

Camacho’s Wedding (Die Hochzeit des Camacho)

University College Opera
Bloomsbury Theatre, London, 21 March 2007

 

There is 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 ever after.

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

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