These short operas should be heard more often and one hopes that the work of Opera Alegria will assist in that task. We know the overture to The Silken Ladder but there is no reason why we should not hear the rest of this scintillating work, and Offenbach’s A Husband At The Door offers a very suitable glass of champagne to put with it.

SilkenAt last year’s Grimeborn Opera Alegria was one of the undoubted highlights with their stylish and entertainingly original takes on two short Mozart operas. They are back in similar form this year with two short pieces by Rossini and Offenbach. Director Benjamin Newhouse-Smith has had the ingenious idea of setting both works in the same country house, but eighty years apart across the nineteenth century. So we start with what might be the era of Jane Austen and end up in the world of Downton Abbey.

These are essentially bedroom farces in which a woman finds herself in a potentially compromising position with a lover, and all sorts of comical escapades ensue in which the forces of conventional order and pomposity are mocked and the clever, witty and resourceful characters are rewarded and affirmed. The music is effortlessly melodic and showy, though with a few carefully crafted points of melancholy to provide points of repose and contrast. It all zips past at a rate of knots with fine comic timing that belies all the meticulous rehearsal that is in the background.

Lindsay Bramley has done an excellent job in converting the original French and Italian into witty conversational English, which for the greater part was audible and distinct. Moreover, it seemed to sit easily enough on the tongues of the singers without causing any awkwardness in vocal production. No small achievement.

SilkenThere are plenty of visual delights and physical pratfalls to keep the audience entertained as the singers dive in or under the large double bed or try to access the room by chimney or locked door. At points the virtuosity of the writing, especially in the Rossini, puts both singers and pianist under a lot of pressure, but dramatic energy and relentless pace keeps both shows firmly on the road.

Unfortunately there was no programme available so this review cannot examine the individual performances in any further detail other than to say that the cast gave great enjoyment and seemed to be enjoying themselves a great deal too.

These short operas should be heard more often and one hopes that the work of Opera Alegria will assist in that task. We know the overture to The Silken Ladder but there is no reason why we should not hear the rest of this scintillating work, and the Offenbach offers a very suitable glass of champagne to put with it.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
A Silken Ladder/ A Husband At The Door
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Tim Hochstrasser
A historian who lectures on early modern intellectual and cultural history at the LSE. He has a long-standing commitment to and love of all the visual, musical, dramatic and decorative arts, and to opera above all, as a unifying vehicle for all of them. He has previously reviewed for BritishTheatre.com and also writes for playstosee. By day you may find him in a library or classroom, but by night in an opera or playhouse…perhaps with a cabaret chaser…