The Secret Garden, Blackheath Halls 4 July

*(*)

Picture from Trinity Laban site

This is an opera by Stephen McNeff, first (and last?) performed in 1985 in Banff.  As any fool can tell, it’s based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which has also been made into a musical.

My advice to people thinking of going to this would be:  Make sure you read a synopsis first.  I was rather hoping that in the normal opera fashion there would be one in the programme, and there wasn’t.  Many of my other expectations were unfortunately fulfilled:  mildly effective sub-Britten music and difficulty in making out what words the singers were singing prominent among them.  Not for the first time, the Trinity Laban opera seemed to me to be playing a mean trick on student singers by giving them far too much space to try to fill with sound.  Some of the hall was wisely cut off, but there was still too much left and not infrequently we had the performers at one end of the hall, the orchestra at the other and the audience in the middle–this created a curious effect for the audience which can’t really have been what was intended.

Oh yes,–the story as presented here was inherently undramatic and the presence of a singer with a Canadian accent (Scott Shpeley as Dickon) was a bit of a puzzler.  Among the singers, I thought that Frances Israel as Martha came off best, having an agreeable part to sing and doing it well.

I might have agreed with what some of the negative characters were singing about Order and Control if I’d been able to make it out.

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