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Magic Flute [Photo courtesy of Theatre Royal Plymouth]
07 Dec 2008

Glyndebourne on Tour — Theatre Royal, Plymouth

Glyndebourne Touring Opera has long been bringing its wares to the further reaches of the southern United Kingdom and its current package of Hansel und Gretel, Carmen and The Magic Flute has been drawing good crowds from Norwich in the east to Plymouth in the south-west.

Glyndebourne on Tour — Theatre Royal, Plymouth

Above: Magic Flute [Photo courtesy of Theatre Royal Plymouth]


GTO is all about looking to the future: many of the young singers in the principal roles are getting their first chance to sing with a company of this standard, knowing that from here they may, if good enough, progress to not only the Glyndebourne Festival itself but also other major houses. Also, the operas are supported by the excellent GT Chorus, and a quick look back through their rosters over the years will reveal both in the Chorus and the supporting singers some well known names — the likes of Felicity Lott, Jill Gomez and Ryland Davies, to name just three who have gone on to international careers.

The other great thing about the Glyndebourne “brand” is their reputation for musical quality and long hours of essential rehearsal time, both assets that many similarly-sized outfits struggle to achieve in these straightened times. Young singers need nurturing, and given time to develop their technical and dramatic skills; I this regard I can think of few better companies than GTO. What a touring company can also do is teach them the other vital skill of the successful singer: working to the highest standard in testing circumstances. Long miles on the road, strange theatres, sometimes inadequate facilities, unknown audiences and, for many, the need to learn two or more parts from scratch — and then there is the singing itself.

All these skills were on display recently at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth where this writer caught both Flute and Carmen playing to full enthusiastic houses at the end of GTO’s Autumn Tour. Each was expertly directed, idiomatically conducted and played, and offered a high standard of vocalism. If Mozart’s renowned pot pourri of fairy-tale, panto, myth and Masonic ritual relied almost entirely on elegant 18th century costumes and a clever lighting rig for its effects, GTO brought the versatile set of guardroom/factory with them for Bizet’s Carmen, plus the full chorus in traditional Spanish costume. Each worked well, and if the Plymouth stage seemed a trifle cramped for the latter opera, it was perfect for Magic Flute. As with many of England’s modern “one-size-fits-all” theatres, the needs of versatility can sometimes work against the opera ideal — the Theatre Royal is a good medium-sized hall, comfortable and modern in its facilities both front and back stage, but acoustically offers some challenges to unamplified voices. This showed up most in the recitatives — in both operas — where more projection was needed than was sometimes supplied. Interestingly, this was not a problem once the singers actually sang with orchestra in their arias.

With so many excellent young artists on show over the two nights, one hesitates to mention particular names, as there were absolutely no “duds” in either pack, but this writer was not alone in noticing the fine, resonant, easy tone of the South Korean baritone Yonghoon Lee as Don José in the Bizet. From a hesitant first scene his voice blossomed into something quite special as he mixed bravura passages with finely-wrought pianissimos — a name to watch.

theatre_royalplymouth.pngTheatre Royal, Plymouth. [Photo courtesy of]

Douglas Boyd (Flute) and Jakub Hrusa (Carmen) directed the excellent GT Orchestra who never seemed to put a foot wrong in either ensemble or obbligatos; fine playing on each night.

Sue Loder © 2008

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