16 April 2012

The Play of Daniel, Victorian Opera

The Play of Daniel
Victorian Opera
15 April 2012

The last time I heard a bass (singer) on stage  that I liked was … um … well, yeah. Balthasar erupted into this opera with a voice that would be quite at home in Boris. But there he was, some distance in time and space from 13th century France where this liturgical drama was written. The Experimedia room of the State Library was just right for this street theatre production in the (270o) round. And Robert Campbell’s voice was rich and deep. He sang the part with authority.

Charlotte Betts-Dean as Balthasar’s queen was simply superb. It’s reasonable to expect a young voice such as hers to show weak attack, the result of the singer being nervous or over-awed, and to squeak on high notes. Not a bit! Hers is a lovely rich voice and it gave her the assurance and gravity the part demanded. Along with Tomas Dalton as the prince – and Redundant Resources Manager towards the end of the second act – these three dominated the opera. Until …

… enter Daniel (Tobias Glasner). This knock-out baritone was utterly at ease with this difficult part (but they all had hideously difficult parts to sing). There was no bravado here, no arrogance, just an ordinary Jewish slave, far from home, quietly secure in his trust his of his god – and his voice.

If that were not enough we had a range of minor parts who were by no means left-overs and a chorus who were disciplined within an inch of their young lives. The chorus, perhaps most of all the musicians in this production, gave the lie to the usual qualified praise, “They were very good for young people”. They weren’t good. They were superb.

I can’t remember hearing music that more effectively portrayed war than this score. The approach of Darius – confusion, horror, death – was painted first by the Nefes Ensemble in complex cross rhythms of percussion and strings then powerful cannon bursts centuries before gunpowder, or was it heads being split open? But when Darius did appear did he work? Thomas Kruyt was a 50 kg Mede devoid of the serious sword-wielding musculature expected of an ancestor of modern Iranians. The part was pitched somewhere between tenor and counter-tenor so casting a boofer with sculptured black beard would have been even more incongruous.

The Play of Daniel was a courageous choice – mediaeval, Middle Eastern, almost set-less, mostly in Latin and with a cast of young people – but its courage that we have come to expect of Richard Gill. And this opera – that was not the romantic Puccini or supra-dramatic Verdi or comedic Rossini that we are so used to – worked. The audience applause and the comments I heard around me and those to Mr Gill as the audience left said so.

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