MUSIC / Worth the wait: Robert Maycock reviews Black Swan Theatre and Opera Company's Dido and Aeneas

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The Independent Culture
Go on, say it: you can't see the point. The Glyndebourne / Royal Opera's Porgy and Bess has just shown the nation's opera-loving couch potatoes why the original stage production caused such a stir. Carmen Jones came up with an array of black performers that still set the Old Vic on fire when the second and third casts took over. There are black superstars in opera. The gates seem to be open all right.

But then ask yourself this: why do you always have to wait for the next Carmen Jones or Porgy to hear most of those singers again? Certainly, nobody in the Black Swan Theatre and Opera Company misses the point. They have given their own time to set everything up without funding, and if they could have put on more than one show, they might not have disappointed the many people the Tricycle Theatre had to turn away last week. They just about did justice to Purcell's Dido and Aeneas on inadequate rehearsal, and they will do it better as soon as they have the chance.

Promised as a semi-staging, the performance was nearer three-quarters. There wasn't much subtlety about the movement, but at least the directors, Joseph Charles and Olusola Oyeleye, managed to make their cast manoeuvre around the tiny stage without major accidents. The small accompanying instrumental group, which did have its struggles, played to one side. There were some African dance episodes, brilliantly coloured African costumes and bouts of drumming before and after the performance - that were reminders of the opera's setting as much as the company's purpose.

Singing was another matter. A firm, forthright ensemble spun off several fine solos: Dido's final lament was sung by Annabelle Williams with unforced but concentrated finesse, Keel Watson was a resonant and electrifying Spirit, Llewellyn Rayappen gave Aeneas some wayward tone and consistent intensity. When the company works on a fully professional basis the strengths will be more balanced, but nobody needed excusing.

For all the lack of polish, this was a performance with a spirit and character of its own, and the atmosphere in the house was certainly alive from the start.

The cast will need to hold on to that spirit as it faces up to some very British obstacles. If people have outstanding abilities they will be heard - thus runs the usual argument for doing nothing about their situation. As in all professional fields, however, the people involved feel they have to be twice as outstanding as other people before that hearing will come about, so long as they wait to be given it.

Black Swan is under black control, and it can present singers when they are ready, not 10 years later. If it means being able to hear Keel Watson on a central stage as well as in Wandsworth Prison's Guys and Dolls or the Baylis Programme's Falstaff, I for one won't complain.