United Kingdom Gluck, The Drunkard Cured, Orfeo ed Euridice: Soloists, RNCM Opera Orchestra and Chorus / Roger Hamilton (conductor), Royal Northern College of Music. RNCM Studio, Manchester, 16.3.2014. (RJF)
The Drunkard Cured. (L’Ivorogne Corrigé) (1759) sung in an original translation in English by Roger Hamilton for this production.
Lucas, Mathurin’s drinking partner, Richard Moore.
Mathurin, Seamus Begg.
Mathurine, his wife, Lauren Lea Fielder.
Colette, his niece, Catrina Woodruff.
Cléon, her suitor, Adam Temple-Smith.
Orfeo ed Euridice (1762). Sung in Italian with English subtitles.
Orfeo, Heather Lowe.
Euridice, Joanna Norman.
Amore, Catriona Hewitson.
Director, Stefan Janski
Set and costume designer, David Cockaigne.
Lighting designer, Paul Botham
With all the 2013 concentration on the Verdi and Wagner bicentenaries and the Britten centenary, I feared that Gluck, that great reformer of operatic structure, would get lost in his tricentennial. Not so at Manchester’s RNCM with its long tradition of opera performances. With a conscious desire to do justice to early opera to follow their productions of Handel’s Xerses and Monteverdi’s Il retorno d’Ullisse (both in 2012) they staged this double bill with early music expert Roger Hamilton on the rostrum.
With the Concert Hall subject to a three million pound refurbishment impinging on the Opera Theatre backstage, Stefan Janski reverted to usage of the intimate Studio Theatre with a mere one hundred and fifty or so seats. Whilst it is difficult to assess the capacity of a singer to fill a larger space, the intimacy of performer and audience demands acting ability of the highest order. The choice of The Drunkard Cured, an intimate comedy fitted the bill in respect of challenges to go alongside the more famous Orfeo.
The story of The Drunkard Cured concerns Mathurin, who wants his niece Colette, who is in love with Cléon, to marry his drinking partner Lucas. Cléon and Mathrine’s wife devise a plan to fool the drunken duo and facilitate the marriage of the lovers. This involves Cléon, in the role of Pluto, causing the drunken duo to fear for their lives – and even afterlife – to the extent that Mathurin signs a marriage contract for the lovers.
As Mathurin, Seamus Beg was the first excellent singer actor of the afternoon. In a drunken stupor on a table on the simple diagonal sloping catwalk with its high entrance and lower exit. His well enunciated singing and fine acting gave the whole proceeding focus. As his wife, Lauren Lea Fielder, created the role well; she was fulsome and varied in tone but in need of clearer articulation. As Colette, Catrin Woodruff was clear toned with nice variations of colour and expression, but rather manufactured in her acting. As Mathurin’s drinking partner, Richard Moore, rather tall and angular and bearded, looking like an American outback sect priest, was vocally a work in progress needing clearer pitching and articulation. Adam Temple-Smith’s clear tenor was a joy to the ear. He acted well as both lover and, with trident in hand, as Pluto.
From the keyboard, Roger Hamilton kept the whole together admirably, both leading his singers and following them also. They had to watch monitors as well as his physical presence behind them.
If I was impressed by some of the singers acting in the first part of this double bill, those in the second opera were outstanding, particularly the Orfeo of Heather Lowe. In a male suit and short hair wig she could have passed for a man in her every movement. To this appearance she added a sincerity of acting as good as I have seen over the years at the RNCM. To every vocal expression and nuance she added intense facial expression, be it of elation, agony or uncertainty. A formidable interpretation. Her smooth mezzo lacked a little lower sonority if one thought of Janet Baker in the role. But to name the latter alongside Ms Lowe is an indication of singer acting excellence of the highest order.
If Heather Lowe looked the part of a man to perfection, Joanna Norman was every man’s ideal wife in her appearance and acting as well as variety of vocal tone and range of expression. Likewise Catherine Hewitson’s Amore fielding more vocal richness than we often hear in the role whilst also meeting the demands of the tessitura. The chorus sang with vibrancy and acted and danced their parts excellently under Stefan Janski’s usual consummate direction. David Cockaigne’s stage set was ideal for the realisation of the two operas. Paul Botham’s lighting added a further gloss on the proceedings adding atmosphere.
With alternating casts there are further performances on Tuesday 18th, Thursday 20th, Saturday 22nd and Thursday 27th of March.
Robert J Farr