Summer Opera Double Bill: The Medium / Ten Belles

Menotti / Von Suppé
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

This was an interesting choice for the summer opera bill if contrast was the intention.

The Medium is a dark sombre piece which is somewhat dated and not to everyone's taste. It has the feel of a Victorian Gothic short story in which a decadent medium gets her just desserts for meddling with the supernatural. I suppose it helps if you are a believer in ghosts and things that go bump in the night.

The music is not particularly memorable. No tunes to whistle on the way out, but there was one aria that stands out and that was sung beautifully by Nicola Hughes, who played Monica, the daughter, to the mute servant, Toby.

Madam Flora was played by Hannah Robbins with strength and confidence .an excellent performance.

An interesting device was the slow dismantling of the claustrophobic set as we watched Madam Flora's mental disintegration. Good idea.

The second part of the bill was a welcome uplift from the world of the dear departed to the comic frivolity of Ten Belles, a little gem of light relief that has been cleverly adapted by John La Bouchardière.

A widower has ten daughters and he is anxious to get them married off asap. Along comes a suitor and the daughters present him with a performance to demonstrate their charms. All their strenuous efforts are in vain because it's the maid who wins the heart of the suitor in the end. In fact it was her "end" that attracted him in the first place!!!

This piece had pace and vitality and was full of visual and vocal interest. The updating of the piece was cleverly constructed and worked well..

There were no weak links here. Every member of the cast helped to sustain the pace and tone of the operetta. Space does not permit me to comment on everyone but I will mention Brett Robinson briefly, who, as the widower, made an energetic contribution and had fine comic timing and presence.

Much credit must go to John La Bouchardière for his imaginative direction. In one scene we see the heads of the ten daughters on plates at floor level, a feast ready to be devoured. Nice to have the facility to achieve this effect! I also enjoyed the idea of the maid having to struggle to create a set behind the various performances. In the end we have a set consisting of a mountain, a Loch Ness monster and the leaning tower of Pisa, a set Monty Python would have been proud of.

All in all this was an enjoyable evening and credit must go to the Royal College for bringing these relatively unknown pieces to our attention.

Reviewer: Tony Layton

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