Rossini on the Fringe has Fizzing Enzembles and a Genial Atmosphere

07/08/2019

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019 [1] – Rossini, Il Signor Brushino: Cambridge University Opera Society / Jamie Conway (musical director), St Cuthbert’s Church (Venue 122), 5.8.2019. (SRT)

Cast:

Florville – Andrei Smid
Sofia – Megan Smania
Gaudenzio – James Ward
Bruschino – Craig Wallace
Filiberto – Robert Nicholas

Sam Tannenbaum (stage director)

There is not much staged opera at the Edinburgh International Festival this year, though what there is (Eugene Onegin and Breaking the Waves) you will be able to read about in these pages later this month. You can always feed your addiction on the Fringe, though, where there is actually a fair bit this year.

Of course, opera being ‘staged’ on the Fringe is normally a long way from being in a darkened theatre with a proscenium, but it can be just as effective with small resources, and I really enjoyed this Signor Bruschino from Cambridge University Opera Society.

It is staged in this historic church of St Cuthbert’s in the west end of Princes Street Gardens. It’s a cavernous space, but supportive of voices, and it sounded very good. Director Sam Tannebaum wisely adopted a less-is-more approach to the staging, with a few generic costumes and a smattering of furniture to suggest indoors. Rossini’s one-act miniature requires little more, so it allowed the plot to unfold sensibly and without undue fuss, and I liked the touch of allowing the continuo player to double as the Commissioner.

Conductor Jamie Conway marshalled his miniature forces very successfully. The strings sounded a little wiry at the beginning but grew into it, and the overall ensemble was very solid. Vocal performances were uniformly strong too. Andrei Smid has a graceful tenor voice that is well suited to the repertoire. Megan Smania’s bright soprano fits the part of Sofia very well, too, with some sparkling coloratura in her main aria. Furthermore, their voices slot into one another very well when it comes to the duets. James Ward has an impressively big bass voice as the elderly Guadenzio, and he is complemented by the more agile baritone of Craig Wallace as Bruschino (père). Robert Nicholas has a nicely rounded baritone as the innkeeper, Filiberto, and Jessica Hopkins does what she can with the small part of the servant Marianna.

The ensembles fizz and the overall atmosphere is entirely genial. The decision to do it in Italian was a little bizarre (perhaps no English translation was easily available?) and it felt odd to be rifling through the libretto as the performance progressed. Otherwise, though, this is a Rossini treat, and exactly the sort of the opera you would hope to find on the Fringe, making the most of their minimal resources in a restrictive space. After all, when else are you going to get the chance to see Rossini’s comedy?

Simon Thompson

Il Signor Bruschino runs until 10th August at Zoo St Cuthbert’s (Venue 122). For details and tickets click here. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs until the end of August at venues across the city. For full details click here.

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