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Yesterday evening Fox Opera made their inaugural performance, providing a rare opportunity both to attend a concert in the beautiful surroundings of the Mackintosh Church, Glasgow, and to see a double-bill of Mozart’s Der Schauspieldirektor K.486 and Le docteur Miracle by Bizet.
Set-up by conductor Olivia Clarke, Fox Opera is a new opera company whose ambition is to provide a professional platform to young singers and instrumentalists while making opera more accessible to audiences in Glasgow. Last night’s performance set the company off on the right foot in this regard; presenting two very good casts while opting for the vernacular. The Mozart was presented in a modernised English libretto in the dialogue while maintaining the original German in the arias and ensembles. This was a highly convincing and successful decision in my view. Doctor Miracle was in English throughout.
Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario) was written for a musical competition in 1786 in which German singspiel was pitted against Italian opera (represented by Salieri’s Prima la musica e poi le parole). It is a highly amusing musical commentary about the ego and vanity of singers. Madame Herz and Madame Silberklang were sung by Ana Pousa and Caroline Kennedy respectively, both brilliantly conveying their vocal agility while relishing in the musical mockery of the other. Tenor Nicolas Maraziotis as Frank (the impresario himself) attempts to bring order to the situation. In the meantime, Buff (the appropriately named buffo baritone role played by Alan Rowland) lowers the tone with suggestive jokes, before eventually convincing the two prima donne to work together. This 25 minute work certainly favours the two soprano roles (that is the point of the story, after all) – Buff does not sing until the finale – but the wit of the plot was evident in the dynamic of the cast throughout.
Bizet wrote Doctor Miracle in 1857 at the age of just 18. This short operetta combines themes and devices which one cannot help but enjoy, in particular the well-seasoned but never-too-old cocktail of mistaken identity, deception and love are all wrapped up into a snapshot of comedy. Laurette, the mayor’s daughter, is in love with Silvio, a captain who the mayor disapproves of. Silvio takes on disguises in order to continue seeing Laurette, first as a doctor who the major chases away, then as Pasquin, a servant hired by the mayor. Upon the discovery of his identity Silvio is banished, then claims to have poisoned the mayor. Who should the mayor call upon, but the doctor he had chased off earlier, who agrees to cure the poison on condition that he marry Laurette. Once permission is granted, he reveals himself once again as Silvio.
Tenor Connor Smith brought much to the multiple characters of Silvio. One moment a white-coated, bearded doctor speaking a range of languages, the next a simple servant speaking in broad Glaswegian. This was juxtaposed with the upper class mayor, played by baritone Will Frost. Frost and Smith bounced their performances off each other brilliantly. The two female roles do not contribute so much to the humour of the plot, but bring their own quirks to the fore. Veronique, the mayor’s wife and Laurette’s mother, was particularly funny as played by Svetlina Stoyanova, regularly referring to her own ‘youthful’ beauty and stories of previous husbands. Klaudia Korzeniewska’s performance of Laurette was brilliant too, particularly in her aria of love for Silvio, in which she demonstrated great lyricism.
The ‘constant’ throughout both the Mozart and the Bizet was that of the staging by director Paola Cuffolo and the musical direction of Olivia Clarke. In each opera, Cuffolo’s direction was simple but highly effective: the stories were brilliantly told. This was aided by subtle lighting and basic props. Navigating her way through the scores, Clark directed a strong orchestral accompaniment, with a particular knack for drawing out lush sonorities and well judged shapes in the Bizet.
All in all, this was a fantastic evening. It runs for another two performances (5 August, 7.30pm and 6 August at 2.30pm at the Mackintosh Church). If you’re into comic plays, unusual opera, live music making, and supporting a new venture – this is not to be missed!