Opera Worcester – “The Marriage of Figaro”
Although first performed in 1786, Mozart’s Opera ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ contains a number of familiar modern day scenarios of trickery and sexual misconduct and not without humour. Andrew Rawle rightly perpetuated the opportunity to present the production in a different way, this time at Christmas during the Edwardian era, in addition to administering some significant cuts to the potential running time.
Set in a country palace in Spain, central to the plot is Count Almaviva (Tim Johnson) and his wife Countess Almaviva (Patricia Head) and whilst their passion for each other has faded, the Count spends his days pestering the serving girls and even the bride to be ‘Susanna’ (Claire Johnson), of his head servant ‘Figaro’ (Aaron Prewer-Jenkinson). Tim Johnson excelled in all aspects; singing with power and clarity and with great humour. Patricia Head and Claire Johnson acted and sang beautifully and Prewer-Jenkinson brought great support and characterisation to ‘Figaro’ himself, as all three schemed against the Count’s plans.
All other principals added great depth, including the experience of Sue Lupton (‘Cherubino’) Caroline Causier (‘Marcellina’), Paul Ellis (‘Don Bartolo’) and John Clay (‘Antonio’) and it was particularly encouraging to see the on board development of some younger members; Laurie Standish Hayes (‘Don Curzio’), Sophie Hutton (‘Barbarina / Young Girl 1’), Michael Burgess (‘Don Basilio’) and Amy Heptinstall (Young Girl 2) who all equipped themselves well.
Whilst clarity of diction varied, there is no doubt that this was a very demanding musical challenge for Opera Worcester which continues to maintain its deserved reputation for adding breadth to the local music scene.
The ensemble were clearly well rehearsed and provided a disciplined and poised presence throughout, all supported by an excellent orchestra under the direction of Sue Black.
The set and costumes sparkled and this well staged production matched with some powerful performances, fully justified the ambitious step forward in the history of the society.
Bruce Wyatt, NODA Representative, District 10.
A production that emphasises The Magic Flute’s fun elements
The Magic Flute is essentially comic, and this wonderful Andrew Rawle-directed production has a remarkable knack at emphasising the comic elements in this piece.
Moments in the storyline that almost cry out for audience interaction appear in Tamino’s character when he says: “Was that for real?” and “I will go to Pamina’s rescue”. This understandably had the audience in giggles, and it is a safe bet that the audience probably had to bite their tongues to stop themselves shouting out: “Yes, it could have been for real, Tamino”, and, “That’s right, you go to Pamina’s rescue”. Andrew Irwin’s interpretation of Tamino (and Andrew Rawle’s direction) worked wonders.
At some points during the unravelling of this fairy tale, one might easily have forgotten that the Magic Flute is an opera that Mozart composed with not-so-comic intentions. Along with his librettist Emmanuel Schikaneder, Mozart wrote the opera as a way to tell audiences about the serious subject of the opposing forces of ignorance verses enlightenment. (As buffs might tell you, Mozart and Schikaneder were freemasons and this, together with the serious side, comes over in this production as well).
During the chorus numbers the ensemble forces of Great Witley Operatic Society’s other singers were out of this world. All characters had a great stage presence too (Paul Thomson was particularly resolute as both Orator and the Bass Armed Man) as were David Coulson’s Sarastro and Patricia Head’s Pamina.
The three attendants to the Queen of the night (Rebecca Fearnley, Janet Hay and Bronwyn Carless) were very credible, along with Claire Johnson’s formidably dark Queen of the Night whose costume was particularly stunning. Some may have anticipated that the genii would be sung by boys but it worked well having Cathryn Dhona, Mary Dhonau and Calaire Hardie assuming these roles.
I cannot fail to mention Caroline Causier’s Papagena and Mike Faulkner’s Papageno, both of whom had interesting costume changes (although I wasn’t sure that Papageno’s costume always looked particularly birdcatcher-like).
As in previous productions by the GWOS, the efforts of the Musical Director Sue Black and the pit orchestra were an integral part of the jigsaw too, consistently supplying both the underlying musical effects of the pantomime-moments, the music hall moments and also the darker, more serious moments that were taking place on stage. The production runs until Saturday 18th March at The Swan in Worcester.
Mozart’s final opera before he died in 1791 and possibly one of his most challenging, is a tale of love and of good versus evil.The opera contains some of his most beautiful music and this was evident from the first bars of music played by an efficient orchestra under the tight control of MD Sue Black.
It is claimed that the setting and time for this story could be anywhere and anytime and Director Andrew Rawle takes full advantage of that in some re-written dialogue and innovative direction that enhances the story and entertains.
A Prince and leading man Tamino (Andrew Irwin) falls in love with a portrait of Pamina (Patricia Head). Both sang and acted with great skill. Pamina has been kidnapped and if he can rescue her, Pamina’s Mother the Queen (Claire Johnson) offers her daughter’s hand in marriage. Along the way, Tamino meets a bird catcher Papageno (Mike Faulkner) who gave us an excellent comic performance full of musicality – I could hear every word.
There was great depth in all remaining principals including Tim Johnson (Monostatos), Paul Thompson (Orator) David Coulson (Sarastro), Paul Ellis & Nick Pilborough (Bass & Tenor Priests) and to nearly stealing the show, Caroline Causier as Papagena. The three ‘Ladies’ and three ‘Genies’ and entire chorus provided good support and the whole cast were well dressed.
The set with its image of a chess board and similarity to the floor of a Masonic Temple, was simple but very effective and the lighting provided an overall lavish effect. This was a production oozing with quality.
Last night I went to see ‘ The Magic Flute ‘ . Well, what a night! Wonderful staging, wonderful lighting, wonderful costumes, wonderful music, wonderful acting and wonderful voices! I heard every word both spoken and sang and enjoyed every moment so much.
Thank you so much, I’m looking forward to ‘ The Marriage of Figaro ‘ next year.
Best wishes, sincerely,
Elizabeth Taylor. Worcester
2016 – Carmen
Great Witley’s Great Carmen
GREAT WITLEY OPERATIC SOCIETY
SWAN THEATRE, APRIL 17-19 2016
IT would surely be a myth to say Carmen has to be sung in French. The narrative and all its sentiments (which are exotic) are carried just as well when sung in English.
So in this production by Great Witley Operatic Society directed by the versatile director Andrew Rawle and equally versatile musical director Sue Black, there was great mastery of the narrative from all the characters and chorus, the English words being partly at least responsible in carrying this narrative.
The journey of Carmen herself sung by professional Sara Jones, was highly credible in her love of and subsequent rejection of Don Jose, sung by Robert Forbes. She is even assertive when she is being tied up by the officers half way through. (Quite good use of the rope, by the way). The chorus has been told to turn its back on significant events.
Throughout, the chorus too remained hearty in their input and at the end their apparent indifference to Don Jose’s murder of Carmen is particularly deft.
Everybody else – Patricia Head as peasant girl Micaela, Mike Faulkner’s Escamillo, Jo Hargreaves as Frasquita and Eleanor Peberdy’s Mercedes – present their own characters in such a way that they cannot just be thought of as mere lesser characters to Carmen. They become, if anything, more integral. Paul Thompson is as usual, perfectly and memorably type-cast as Zuniga.
Though this was a semi-staged production, it was easy to imagine the scenery (cigarette factory in act one and mountains in act three for example) as it would be in fully staged productions. The backdrop of changing Spanish colours worked brilliantly. Minimalist but we do not need any more.
Officers and smugglers were as fabulously-outfitted as any ROH or New York Met production of this work. Do costume and Spanish culture need to be emphasised in this production? Probably not.
Carmen Review by Trevor Guest
Venue : Swan Theatre, Worcester
Director : Andrew Rawle
Musical Director : Sue Black
Choreographer : Andrew Rawle
Since 1952 GWOS has been synonymous with G & S productions but during the last few years emphasis has changed to increase their repertoire and include musical comedy (Namely Oklahoma and Fiddler on the Roof). This weeks production of the well known and popular opera Carmen was yet another change and one must applaud their commitment to change and versatility.
First night’s are notorious for producing unexpected problem’s but Thursday night’s performance held no such worry’s. There were no gremlin’s present. As expected, experienced singers took the leading roles. A newcomer to the Society Sara Jones, was excellent in the role of Carmen and I was delighted to see lovely Patricia Head back on stage playing (Micaela), and with Jo Hargreaves (Frasquita) and Eleanor Peberdy, (Mercedes) completed as fine a quartet of female performers you could wish for.
The principal male singers in the cast were not so accomplished as the ladies but Robert Forbes (Don Jose) has a fine voice and stage presence. Evergreen Paul Thompson (Zuniga) and charismatic Mike Faulkner (Escamillo) brought their experience to a receptive audience. The chorus and the orchestra under Musical Director Sue Black, marshalled the musical components into a fine production.
2015 – Fiddler on the Roof
NODA REVIEW – Trevor Guest
“Fiddler” is one of the all time great musicals and certainly one of my favourites. This production brought out all the pathos and humour in the small village of the Jewish community of Anatevka. The central role of Tevye, the local milkman, superbly played and sung by Andrew Bartlett, trying to scrape a living in the township with his wife of twenty five years Golde (Bronwen Carless) who is more than a match for Tevye. Their poignant duet “Do you love me” was lovely and touching.
Their five daughters were all very well played and determined to break with Tradition and marry their own choice of husband and not an arranged marriage by the local matchmaker Yente (a delightful cameo by Sylvia Craddock) . In the changing world keeping the faith and ancient Traditions was extremely difficult for Tevye as eldest daughter Tzeitel breaks with the old Traditions and marries Motel the village tailor. Second daughter Hodel falls in love with Perchik, a student visiting the village who is arrested in Kiev when he returns there to complete his studies. Hodel leaves home to be with him and Chava falls in love with Fyedka a Russian soldier thus stretching Tevyes faith in the Traditions even further to the point where he tells Golde that Chava is dead to us as she is cast aside by Tevye and leaves home to be with Fyedka .
The principals were all very well cast with an outstanding vocal from Cherril Watkins (Fruma-Sarah ) in the bedroom dream scene. The sadness is palpable at the Finale as the village inhabitants leave to find another place to live but still with humour from Tevye (Don’t forget the baby) as they leave to live in America. Orchestra, Stage crew, lighting and sound all contributed to the overall excellence of the performance.
Worcester News 20th March 2015
FIDDLER on the Roof is one of the finest, most moving, musical scripts that, once seen, will stay with you for the rest of your life.
With its haunting, vibrant music and thought-provoking, yet warm and genuinely funny dialogue it makes for a completely endearing show.
Great Witley Operatic Society are currently offering a fabulous interpretation of Fiddler at Worcester’s Swan Theatre and director Chris Love has done a fantastic job with the company who all deserve praise for taking on a show, which in some ways is their most ambitious.
The musical is set in the Ukranian ghetto of Anatevka. Henpecked husband Tevye, the dairyman, is constantly being challenged by his poverty, the prejudicial attitudes of non-Jews and his five headstrong daughters who want to marry for love rather than having the local matchmaker find them husbands.
The opening scene sees the Fiddler, Jo Chambers, sitting high up in the eaves of a peasant’s house. She starts to play that haunting melody which sends shivers down your spine.
The casting is great with Andrew Bartlett in the lead role as Tevye, giving an excellent performance in a very demanding part. He brings out the comedy, warmth and emotional anguish of the character and gives a powerful rendition of If I Were A Rich Man. Tevye and his wife Golde – played superbly by Bronwen Carless – have some delightful scenes, including the duet Do You Love Me.
The three marriageable daughters are outstandingly played by Christie-Laura Malpass (Tzeitel), Grace Moseley (Hodel) and Susannah Greenow (Chava). There is splendid singing by Grace, who is only 14 years old.
Special mention must go to Harry Ryan, who plays the poor but hardworking tailor Motel Kamzoil who loves, and later marries Tzeitel. His characterisation and singing are both excellent.
Cherril Watkins, who plays Fruma-Sarah, the ghost of Lazar Wolf’s departed wife in the show-stopping dream scene also deserves praise as does Lazar Wolfe (Andrew Rawle), Yente, the matchmaker (Sylvia Craddock) and Perchik (Matt Parkinson).
The simple, but effective set, is also impressive and the orchestra adds to a lovely evening’s entertainment. The show runs until Saturday, March 21.
My colleague Trevor Guest will I am sure be in contact with you more formerly after our attendance at the Swan on Wednesday evening.
In the meantime on behalf of Karen and myself thank you for your hospitality and warm welcome. We both thoroughly the enjoyed the evening and a great show and please extend our good wishes to all involved for a successful week in the remaining performances.
Thanks again and look forward to seeing you again soon
A word of “Thanks” for a very enjoyable evening at The Swan yesterday.
The performance of Fiddler On The Roof was thoroughly entertaining, absorbing and I keep thinking about it today.
Well done to all the cast, orchestra and support crew. Your performances are always great and this one was terrific!
We didn’t previously know anything about Fiddler On The Roof (apart from the most obvious part) and found the combination of humour dance and song with a hard hitting story quite unexpected – a brave move that worked superbly.
“Thanks All” again, see you next time.
Review by Trevor Guest (NODA)
The stirring overture played by the sixteen strong orchestra set the standard for the whole performance of this well loved Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Following last year’s NODA nominated award production of Oklahoma!, this was a return to familiar ground for GWOS and a production with a twist from Director Chris Love and MD Sue Black but retaining the traditions of G and S performances. A strong cast of (in the main) experienced performers but there was no shortfall in any of the individual roles. Andrew Rawle gave an outstanding interpretation of Jack Point encompassing every emotion from jocularity to pathos and anguish. Probably the best performance of Jack Point I have seen. Paul Thompson (Sergeant Meryll) and Michael Faulkner (Colonel Fairfax) two experienced veterans of G and S productions were both excellent and looked like they could go on for years. Bob Payne, new to me, was a very impressive (Shadbolt). Paul Ellis (Sir Richard) and Ben Moore (Leonard Meryll) completed the main roles with aplomb. Kathryn Cope (Phoebe) has a fine voice and stage presence and was totally delightful. It was nice to see accomplished Cheryl Watkins (Elsie) on stage again and still singing with ease and control. Janet Hay (Dame Carruthers), initially rather fearsome eventually melts to Sergeant Meryll’s somewhat awkward proposal and completing the fine cast Cathryn Martin (Kate) has a lovely mezzo (?) voice which could be heard in the quartet ‘Strange Adventure’ and no doubt we shall see her in future productions. An excellent chorus, lighting, sound, costumes and scenery enhanced the whole production. The audience applause at the finale must have conveyed their total enjoyment to the company.
2014 The Yeomen of the Guard Worcester News Review by Beverley Abbs
ANY lover of Gilbert and Sullivan could not fail to enjoy Great Witley Operatic Society’s presentation of Yeomen Of The Guard – a show that has good principals, stunning costumes and polished orchestral playing.
The opening night performance at Worcester’s Swan Theatre was largely a delight, sad though the auditorium was perhaps only three quarters full.
Of the G&S offerings Yeoman is one of the less comedic, but a decent romp with twists and turns aplenty, beautiful music, romance and tragedy.
Set around the Tower of London in Tudor England the action centres upon the unusual infatuations and fortunes of three men and three women, each looking to get wed – one of whom is also facing the death penalty.
Outstanding was Andrew Rawle in the key role of Jack Point, a strolling jester, expressive in both his jesting and singing. The impressive character actress was Kathryn Cope who brought great verve to the role of Phoebe Meryll. Michael Faulkner was exceptional both vocally and dramatically as the dashing Colonel Fairfax, under sentence of death, with Cherril Watkins splendid as Elsie Maynard, a strolling singer, and Bob Payne as Wilfred Shadbolt, the jealous and keyed-up head jailer and assistant tormentor, who provided a good many laughs. Two other performances which should get a mention were from Paul Thompson as Sergeant Meryll, of the Yeoman of the Guard, and Janet Hay as Dame Carruthers, housekeeper to the Tower, who both get caught up in the marrying scheme which goes awry.
Presenting G&S is not an easy task and director Chris Love and musical director Sue Black have done a magnificent job with Yeoman, but even with experienced singers it’s asking a lot to produce a Gilbert patter song at speed and volume to fill the auditorium without the aid of microphones.
‘Oklahoma’ by Rodgers and Hammerstein
Worcester Swan Theatre 9 – 13 April 2013
Director: Chris Love | Musical Director: Sue Black
“Great Witley Operatic Society impress with their version of an American classic”
OKLAHOMA! is Great Witley Operatic Society’s first venture into the world of American musical theatre and away from light opera – and it definitely should not be the last.
From the moment Kit Windows-Yule strode on to the stage to open the show at Worcester’s Swan Theatre with that wonderful song Oh What A Beautiful Morning it was thoroughgoing entertainment.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s story is a classic. There’s rivalry between the farmers and the cowmen. Then there’s Laurey (Lynsey Squair) and Curly (Kit Windows-Yule), who tease and flirt and go out of their way to avoid admitting their obvious attraction for each other, while hired hand Jud Fry (Michael Staiger) nurses a much less wholesome desire for Laurie. Amidst all this evolves the zany romantic triangle of Will Parker (Lewis Adey), Ado Annie (Kathryn Cope) and Ali Hakim, (Dan Robinson), the Persian travelling salesman who likes to peddle more than the wares on his cart to the local ladies, Kit Windows-Yule is a captivating hero, a mixture of boyishness and earnestness, with a truly amazing voice delivering those beautiful Rodgers’ melodies. Equalling his vocal talents is Lynsey Squair, a clear and beautiful soprano, playing the naive and coy, yet clever Laurey.
Sue Wild makes an endearing Aunt Eller, the de facto stateswoman who guides the community’s affairs by guile (nudging Curly and Laurey toward each other), threat (brandishing a gun to stop farmer versus cowboy fisticuffs) or appeals to compassion and common sense (overruling a judge at Curly’s trial).
Dan Robinson makes for an enjoyable Ali Hakim, with charm, slyness and a big dose of comic genius. Kathryn Cope is the wonderfully skittish, flirtatious Ado Annie, the girl who “cain’t say no.” And Lewis Adey – just 17 on opening night – gave a superb performance as the prairie dim cowboy Will Parker.
Never mind the “bright golden haze on the meadow” the storms gather with the appearance of troubled farm-hand Jud Fry, played strongly and menacingly by excellent vocalist Michael Staiger. This is an excellent performance, with solid direction and good choreography by Chris Love, producing such a venture for the first time. The singing is great and the overall feel of the production deftly rides the lines between golden-hued nostalgia and true grit.
This Oklahoma! is more than OK – it is a winner and it’s on until Saturday.
“Well done, Oklahoma! was top performance”
SIR – I must congratulate Great Witley Operatic Society on the production of Oklahama!. It was magnificent and the first time I have seen a GWOS production.
The director Chris Love gave a show of perfection resembling the original film of the 50s with fine music that resounded across the whole auditorium.
Everyone connected with the performance, from the director to the costumes, scenery, lighting and the beautiful voice of Kit Windows-Yule (Curly), who I have seen before, was excellent.
Kit gave the musical a head start right from the beginning with his rendition of Oh what a beautiful morning. It may have been cold, miserable and wet outside but inside there was a warmth of pure 50s nostalgia.
I must also mention Laurey, played by Lynsey Squair, who was as good as Curly with the most exquisite voice. The comic antics of Ado Annie Carnes (Kathryn Cope) were splendid for all to see with Ali Hakim (Dan Robinson) and Will Parker (Lewis Adey) vying for her attention.
The whole cast from actors to dancers were absolutely first class.
I understand from the programme’s foreward by Paul Thompson (president) that it is the first time that GWOS has ventured into American Musical Theatre. May I suggest they do so again.