The Gate Arts and Community Centre, Cardiff

Fri 4 Feb


If opera and The Gate Arts and Community Centre were jigsaw puzzle pieces, they probably wouldn’t be the first two you tried to force together. On one hand, you have one of the most spectacular art-forms with its unquenchable thirst for space and excess; on the other, there is a performance space that often drowns the size of production it can technically cater for.

So, in braving a venue that could easily suffocate their talent, Dragon Opera’r Ddraig had their work cut out from the start with this 1940s-style revival of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Yet, chirping below us in the antithesis of conventional opera, the company’s rich characterisation and skilful harmonising allowed them to transcend their stuffy confines and show us that opera is still something very much alive.

In representing the strong and sarcastic husband-to-be of the title, Robert Garland didn’t just showcase a strong vocal range. As he swung from efficient to jealous to scheming, Garland skilfully navigated the wide emotional range of his character alongside the sometimes uncomfortable meter of the English translation. Supporting him in creating a greatly comic piece was Annie Sheen, whose simultaneously melodramatic and earnest Cherubino was innovatively played. Susanna was enriched by Llio Evans whose spectacular alveolar trills and perfectly timed comic pathos made this loyal maid truly likeable.

Countess Rosina Almaviva also makes a striking and confident entrance, although Sian Winstanley’s take on the libretto is so lost in layers of rich vibrato she might as well be singing in the original Italian. Yet in adopting the operative pneumatic drill of the upper classes and reaching high and powerful notes with apparent ease and control, she has completely captured the grace and condescending manner of the Countess. In humorous juxtaposition to this, the West-Country accent of Richard Moore‘s Antonio is marvellous. Dressed in flat-cap and wellies his small part as gardener brings out the class divides which are integral to this story. It is this variety that allows the work to function as a powerful and witty satire of aristocracy.

The music of Mozart is said to stimulate the brain. Giving us plenty to think about and much to admire, this production does not break from that pattern. This is a successful adaptation that forces its modest venue to burst at the seams and leaves us craving more.

first published in Buzz


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