Opera Theatre Company

Philip Hammond makes a reluctant return for the concluding part of OTC's History Of Opera

Opera Theatre Company has returned to the Baby Grand with the second of its canters through the history of opera. Gallop is probably a better word to use as David Vivian Russell gathers his forces at the starting line. How else is he going to cover the ground from Beethoven to Puccini in one hour?

I feel like the Headmaster who has reported that the company 'could do better' than it did in the first episode of OTC’s Opera Club, presented here at the end of January. And as Russell takes a step back into the uneasy territory of the previous presentation by invoking the ghost of Mozart, I’m beginning to regret my promise to return for episode two. Baritone Christopher Cull’s rendition of Leporello’s famous aria recounting the peccadilloes of the Don is an inauspicious first hurdle.

But the quartet of young singers comes together for an extract from Beethoven’s Fidelio and the mood changes. Joining Cull, soprano Gabriela Istoc, mezzo soprano Chloe Hinton and tenor Eugene Ginty give the impression that they are on top of this music, that they have thought about how to engage with their audience and describe the scenes they are performing.

Perhaps the audience does have to use its imagination with the sound of the electric keyboard, which is played well if maybe a little loudly by David Bremner, but there are definite signs of a more convincing presentation afoot.

Old scores are put aside literally, and it’s in the musical extracts that the albeit limited value of the evening emerges. Eugene Ginty is a practiced performer and despite residual problems from a recent cold taking the shine off his Rossini, he shows his relatively less experienced colleagues how to draw his audience to him and retain its attention through simple stage presence.

If Chloe Hinton is still learning to define her character in Bizet’s Carmen, she is at least doing it well enough to win over admirers to her side.

It’s Gabriela Istoc who wins the race however, with her emotionally rich performance of Dvorak’s 'Song of the Moon' from his opera Rusalka. She is a singer to put your money on in the future.

Meanwhile David Vivian Russell eruditely expounds the social and historical context to opera in the 19th century. What he says, or rather reads from his lecture notes, is factually interesting but it’s delivered at too breathless a pace - a necessary pace, you could argue, to get through just too much in too little time.

Episode two is then a vast improvement on episode one – but I leave the auditorium wondering if the original concept of a two series story of opera is ill advised and the wrong race to enter.