Bastien and Bastienne

Mozart's stubborn lovers impress on their Belfast date

One feels awfully genteel, playing a man of leisure and nipping to the opera on one's lunch hour. The feeling dissipates, however, when you see that Belfast's Baby Grand theatre has only 20 free seats, and they're quickly filling.

With Mozart's Bastien and Bastienne, the Opera Theatre Company has succeeded in making an accessible and accomplished show appeal to a non-opera crowd. As self-declared proles, my esteemed colleague and I settle into the gentrified vibe, take our seats and act as aficionados of comic opera.

While an appreciation of Mozart may yet be deemed the preserve of high society, Bastien and Bastienne remains one of his least sophisticated efforts. To be expected, given that the prodigious child produced the play at 12 years of age. 

With a colourful and cartoony take, this adaptation captures the charm and simplicity of the child's imagination. After Andrew Synnott, sitting stage right at the keys of a lacquered black piano, sets the pastoral tone, Claudia Boyle's Bastiennne raises immediate laughs with her comical lament of lost love Bastien. 

'Life is a lie,' she sings, running between the tractors and gates of her farmland home. 'I'd rather die.' The notes sail from the stage, even as she takes teary refuge in chomping a brown-crusted farmhouse loaf.

Soprano Claudia Boyle and Tenor Andew Boushell in the Opera Theatre Company's 'Bastien and Bastienne'Enter the apparently wise farmer Mr Colas, the wax jacket and tweed-wearing Gavan Ring. With a shotgun in hand and taste for fowl, he pounces upon the opportunity to show the wisdom of his years.

Advising the wailing Bastienne to act frivolously in order to entice Bastien back from the city-dwelling floozy that has caused him to flee, he raises suspicions. The fortune-telling farmer seems more likely to be a letch, happy to capitalise on the boy Bastien's absence.

The assertive Bastienne sings 'I won't change, not on your life', a warm contrast to the rolling r's and blustering baritone of Mr Colas. When Andrew Boushell's Bastien enters, however, it is clear that despite his high-street chic and implied infidelity, his heart belongs to Bastienne and the rustic ways of the country.

Immediately and perfectly synchronised with the tinkling keys, the characters are established. The arias proceed with whimsy, Boushell singing his ode to Bastienne's grace. While she remains distant, Bastien too seeks Colas' advice.

The farmer returns, now appearing as a pimped-out Worzel Gummidge. With long frayed coat, red velvet neckerchief and hoe-topped sceptre he deceives Bastien, making him believe that his one true love has taken up with another man.

Even with straightforward characters, Mr Colas remains incongruous. Appearing as a bird-hunting farmer roots him firmly in the rural. If he is to interfere, here, it seems more likely that his modus operandi might be a rusty-toothed animal trap, or deep pit concealed by leaves.

'Bastien and Bastienne', Andrew Boushell and Claudia BoyleAs it is, the transformation to soothsayer with nonsense spells and mystical powers is a contrast, like Elmer Fudd suddenly using magic to snare Bugs Bunny. 

Similarly, Colas' explicit desire for Bastienne - red roses and heart-shaped chocolate boxes - sets the expectation for an uppance that never comes.

However the clear dialogue and pacey procession makes the performance glide. The drama really begins when the unfazed Bastien and petulant Bastienne defiantly dance around one another, with a fluid duet leading up to his declaration of suicide.

After appearing with one red glove mucked up to the elbow, Bastienne stubbornly thrusts a sickle into the young man's hand. Even with the performance at its most physical, with jumps and catches, the songs remain record-perfect. 

That Boyle, Boushell and Ring have come through the Opera Theatre Company's young associate artists programme suggests that all three have accomplished careers ahead of them. So too does this demonstrate director Annilese Miskimmon's commitment to creating an uncomplicated showcase for the talents of tomorrow.

Although easy to stage, the dynamism - leaping, jumping and frolicking under falling petals - makes Bastien and Bastienne a precocious, playful and pleasurable performance. 

Perfectly sung, unified and fluid, in Bastien and Bastienne the Opera Theatre Company have a flawless production, with nary a note out of place or wavering breath. Here they have a lovestruck lunchtime libretto that leaves you light on your feet and speaking in song. 

The Opera Theatre Comany's Bastien and Bastienne is on tour now. Click here for full details. 

Kiran Acharya