Saturday, 13 August 2022

Night at the opera explores passion and duty

PANGBOURNE Choral Society’s summer concert is always one to look forward to — because of its

PANGBOURNE Choral Society’s summer concert is always one to look forward to — because of its less formal, lighter programme.

Billed as the society’s Night At The Opera, this concert provided excellent entertainment, reflecting the community spirit and friendship that is the hallmark of this choir.

Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas is England’s oldest opera (1689). It presents numerous challenges in that it has an operatic libretto, but more restrained and structured than the more familiar Italian opera that followed much later.

In a non-staged setting, the dramatic onus rests squarely on the soloists and the supporting chorus.

In this concert, held in the college’s Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel, the pellucid tones of Helen Parker (Dido) revealed an interpretation of rare depth and beauty, with the bright-toned and articulate Emma Brain-Gabbott (Belinda) her perfect foil.

William Townend (Aeneas) communicated with ease and intensity the dilemma he faced between passion and duty. Helen and Emma returned in the second half to deliver a wonderful performance of Delibes’s Flower Duet.

And what of the excellent Pangbourne Choral Society?

To provide dramatic yet supporting choral support switching from choral commentary to witches in the drama is no easy task.

Added to which, no fewer than eight PCS members took on some of the solo roles, in which they all performed superbly. Helen Legg was compelling as the Sorceress and there was a wonderfully evil-sounding witches’ coven.

The pinpoint precision and masterly command of the orchestral musicians, led by Theresa Caudle, was a study in clarity of texture, and the pacing of the overture and incidental music was perfectly judged.

Music director Roy Raby’s conducting was masterful and enthusiastic, as it was throughout.

The second half showcased PCS’s admirable versatility in mastering a transition from Restoration England to 19th century Grand Opera — a fabulous and hugely challenging musical journey.

It is hard to single out individual highlights because there was something for every member of the audience to enjoy.

But the grand finale of the Pilgrims’ Chorus from Wagner’s Tannhäuser and the closing Chorale from Die Meistersinger were a fitting tribute to a lot of hard work by all concerned.

Review: Peter Hayward

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