Classical review: Mansfield Park, Hampstead Garden Opera, Gatehouse Theatre, London
Monday 22 April 2013
Considering the popularity of Jane Austen’s books as film fodder, it’s remarkable that no one has thought to turn one into an opera until now.
Composer Jonathan Dove says that when he first read Mansfield Park, he heard music: his imagination was fired by the way its heroine Fanny Price suffers in the most expressive silence. For his librettist Alasdair Middleton, this novel was not only suffused with theatre – its characters put on a real play to enact their own dramas – but it also had echoes of both Shakespeare and pantomime, with Fanny being Cordelia to her patron Sir Thomas Bertram’s Lear, and being at the same time a quintessential Cinderella.
But Dove and Middleton had no interest in making this a conventional opera. They decided to create a piece which could be performed in a stately home with piano accompaniment, in a manner which would have been familiar to Austen and her friends: a ‘chamber’ opera in the literal sense of the word. The house would be the set, with the action surrounding the audience. Hampstead Garden Opera’s boss Alastair Macgeorge was up for it, and his brave little company’s auditorium – created a century ago for ‘Balls, Cinderellas and Concerts’ – offered the ideal venue.
And that it is. Ten singers in period costume perform in the simulacrum of a Regency drawing room big enough to accommodate a ball and an amateur play, with an ‘upstairs’ platform for Fanny’s room: it genuinely does feel like Mansfield Park. Jane Austen’s prophetic social panorama is necessarily reduced to its more manageable elements – we get no whiff of Fanny’s grimy origins in Portsmouth – but the underlying clash of moralities (old Tory decency versus nouveau-riche opportunism) comes clearly across. Those not familiar with the novel get a helpfully detailed synopsis: those who love it will recognise some of its choicest moments.
The singers are either semi-amateurs or fledgling professionals, but under Oliver-John Ruthven’s direction and with two brilliant young pianists they put on a sparkling show. William Davies’s Rushworth is a comic booby with pathos, William Morgan’s Crawford is louche and persuasive, and Teresa Pells is utterly convincing as the coquettish and scheming Maria; Sarah Denbee projects veiled power as Fanny. And if the score carries echoes of Sondheim, that’s nothing to be ashamed of: Dove’s theatrical judgment is impeccable, and his brightly-coloured music with its duets, quartets, and tuttis bowls delightfully along.
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Oscar voter speaks outfilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 2 What color is The Dress, white and gold or blue and black? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
- 3 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 4 'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
- 5 Madonna claims jokes about her age tantamount to racism: 'No one would dare to say a degrading remark about being black'
Seinfeld is laughing all the way to the bank: TV show generates $3.1bn in repeat fees since final episode
Wolf Hall finale, review: Simply brilliant TV
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl: First look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Blade Runner sequel: Harrison Ford confirmed to return with Denis Villeneuve directing
All fiction follows one of six basic storylines, according to new research
Oscars 2015: Birdman beats Boyhood as Eddie Redmayne and Patricia Arquette win big - as it happened
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East