Monday, 11 December 2017

Monarchs are royally inspiring

INTIMATE and snug on a crisp December morning, the final Opera Prelude lecture-recital of the year on Friday at Fawley Barn was a gem.

To celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday with a well-researched look at 19th and 20th century opera, we delved into our royal heritage and learnt how British monarchs have inspired composers through the centuries. Festive sparkling wine was generously provided by Fawley vineyard.

This marvellous charity supports and creates performance opportunities for singers at the start of their careers. We heard from three young artists with historical introductions by mezzo-soprano and Opera Prelude co-founder Adriana Festeu.

The music focused particularly on the period of the Tudors. A contrasting programme included arias and duets from Saint-Saëns’ seldom-performed Henry VIII; Donizetti’s trilogy of operas about the Tudor monarchy; Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana; and Edward German’s English comic opera Merrie England, concerning love and rivalries in the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

Soprano Callie Swarbrick had unfortunately been taken ill. In her place, Tanya Hurst gave us some powerful and impassioned singing, having impressively learnt the repertoire in just a few days.

Her versatility was equally convincing as Catherine of Aragon in excerpts from the Saint-Saëns as in the much gentler Queen Mary’s Song by Elgar.

Adriana Festeu drew us in with her engaging performance style as Jane Seymour in Donizetti’s Anne Bolena. She managed the ornamental line with intelligence and technical security as she sang of her love for the king, but also of her loyalty to Queen Anne Boleyn.

We had some lively singing from London-born tenor Aidan Coburn, and I particularly enjoyed his full warm tone as the Earl of Essex in Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana.

A sensitive accompaniment was provided by Natalie Burch, who got the very best out of the electric keyboard. However, the very high standard of singing and playing deserved a good piano.

Opera Prelude has plans to reach out to a wider audience and to find a venue in central Henley. Look out for a series of lecture-recitals next year on the history of opera featuring young artists.

Mandy Beard

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