The Opera Show, Kilworth House Theatre, Leicestershire

Reviewed by Michael Coveney
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The Independent Culture

The setting is so extraordinary you wouldn't want the show to upstage it, and this quirky operatic cabaret triptych – a Venetian carnival; an Italian 1940s verismo with a blind girl in the family as they listen to records and radio; a rocked-up laser-and-lights show – knows its place; which is firmly contained between two pleasantly extended intervals.

Country house theatre has many mansions these days, but the new initiative (this is the third season) in this magnificent setting in south Leicestershire is something else: more populist, even middle-brow, perhaps, with an emphasis on musicals (Crazy for You this season, possibly Guys and Dolls next) and light opera.

The Opera Show, devised and directed by Mitch Sebastian, the man behind The Rat Pack, is a compendium of arias you know and love performed by four singers, five dancers and eight musicians in a 550-seat arena covered by white canopies in wooded parkland.

It's a similar set up to the Holland Park Opera, with the sides open to the trees, an attractive picnic area and a stunning Victorian Orangery where you can have a pre-show dinner.

The performance standard is a bit wobbly, but the eye (and ear) is taken by the sopranos Clare Eggington and Anna-Clare Monk, the baritone James Cleverton, the gamine dancer Amber Doyle and a brilliant, still raw, tap dancer, Dharmesh Patel, south Leicestershire's answer to Savion Glover.

Arias are sung in the original language, partly to disguise the fact that they don't fit any of the dramatic contexts, and one of the few English items, "Dido's Lament", is delivered as an act of defiance rather than submission with a dance of death and, oddly, castanets. "La donna e mobile" re-casts the old Jonathan Miller ENO joke of a kicked jukebox as a stuck needle on the gramophone, but without the point of the gag, the nudge-nudge of over-familiarity.

Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" is done with torches, Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" with starlight and there's some fine woozy dancing in the drinking song from La traviata. You give up on the story (the show is best viewed as a sort of posh karaoke night) and go with the flow, no real hardship as the stunning costumes of Christopher Giles and the expert lighting of Chris Ellis look a treat on Sean Cavanagh's impressive adaptable design of balustrades and gantries.

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