Guildhall School Opera – Double Bill of Bizet’s Doctor Miracle and Viardot’s Cinderella

Bizet
Le docteur Miracle –
Operetta in one act to a libretto by Léon Bartu and Ludovic Halévy, based on the farce Saint Patrick’s Day by Richard Brinsley Sheridan [sung in French with English surtitles]

Pauline Viardot
Cendrillon –
Salon operetta in three tableaux to a libretto by the composer after the fairy tale Cendrillon, ou La petite pantoufle de verre, by Charles Perrault [orch. Amy Crankshaw; performed in French with English surtitles]

Le docteur Miracle ★★☆
Laurette – Ellie Neate
Véronique – Amy Holyland
Capitaine Silvio / Pasquin / Docteur Miracle – Innocent Masuku
Le Podestat – Jack Holten

Cendrillon ★★★
Cendrillon – Cleo Lee-McGowan
La Fée – Ellie Neate
Maguelonne – Eryn Gwyn Rossington
Armelinde – Laura Fleur
Le Prince Charmant – Florian Panzieri
Le Comte Barigoule – Innocent Masuku
Le Baron de Pictordu – Jack Holton

Chorus and Orchestra of Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Dominic Wheeler

Ashley Dean – Director
Cordelia Chisholm – Designer
Kevin Treacy – Lighting designer


4 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 1 November, 2021
Venue: Silk Street Theatre, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London

The 18-year-old Bizet’s second opera, composed for a competition launched by Offenbach who selected the libretto that needed to be set by the challengers, pops up occasionally in the repertoire of music colleges – it’s a typically frothy farcical confection full of catchy tunes for four singers and an excellent vehicle for young artists to gain a bit of stage experience. Bizet and the composer Charles Lecocq, once hailed as an Offenbach successor, shared the first prize. There were seven other competitors who got to the final round – one wonders who they were and if their scores remain extant, too.

Designer Cordelia Chisholm recreated a bourgeois furnished dining-room-come-study, and Ashley Dean allowed his four singers to facilitate the action to unfold relatively naturally, although introducing some movement routines towards the end of the (over-long) quartet where Le Podestat, Laurette and Véronique discuss the recipe and extol the virtues of Pasquin’s omelette before eating it. It turns out to be inedible and potentially deadly (curable only by Le Podestat begging his daughter to marry Dr. Miracle so he can afford the therapy).  Attractive though the music is the characters are not well drawn, and it is only the singer playing Silvio in his various disguises who propels the action. Innocent Masuku did a fine job here. His is an attractive tenor voice with a pleasingly reedy timbre that projects well, and he possesses a winning stage personality. His Pasquin is thoroughly disreputable and his Dr. Miracle a very cool customer. Both disguises are nicely contrasted with his amorous Silvio (his true identity). Laurette was the light-voiced Ellie Neate who manages to bring elements of feistiness as well as a ditsy quality to her portrayal. Her parents are played by Amy Holyland and Jack Holten; both showing off ample voices and really projecting the text, which helped as the surtitles were not as clearly projected as one might have wished for. Dominic Wheeler led his payers in an exuberant reading of the score.

The second half of the double bill was both revelatory and enchanting. 2021 is the 200th-anniversary of the birth of Pauline Viardot, one of the most remarkable women of her time. She was a talented pianist, singer, composer as well as a leading light in cultural and literary society (If you want a great account of her life and times read ‘The Europeans’ by Orlando Figes). Her opera Cendrillon is a gentle, almost wistful, retelling of the Cinderella story. Viardot never orchestrated her piano score, pragmatically realising that the chances of performance would be limited. For these performances the South African composer and Guildhall School alumna Amy Crankshaw has scored a delightful chamber orchestration of Viardot’s music. It is full of invention, rhythmic zest, creative colours and brilliant evocations of mood. Humour is also present. That she allows much of Viardot’s piano score to remain and inform adds a special dimension. These sections are played beautifully by Joseph Beesley, Edwin Spark and on the stage by Marlowe Fitzpatrick. What seals the beauty of the evening is the staging.

This is a salon opera and so is staged in a society salon as might have been seen in Viardot’s time. It is hosted by La Fée with the chorus and principals as the guests stepping up to deliver their numbers. The narrative is clear as crystal, and there is magic in the transformation of the pumpkin, the mouse, the lizard, and a rat to provide Cinderella’s retinue. Gorgeous vocal performances, too. Cleo Lee-McGowan’s Marie (Cendrillon) is full of restraint and poise, Innocent Masuku sparkles as Le Comte Barigoule, again relishing disguises, and Eryn Gwyn Rossington delivers a fruitily-voiced show-stealing song to the company as Maguelonne. Jack Holton seemed happier in the role of Le Baron de Pictordu which gives more scope to act and showcase his resonant bass.

Ellie Neate’s, unrecognisable from her appearance in the Bizet, was an ethereal-voiced Fairy Godmother. The players of the Orchestra were also having a ball, clearly relishing their moments to shine in the spotlight and realising the inventiveness of both Viardot and Crankshaw. Be like Cinderella and go if you can. Fear not if you can’t – the Guildhall fairy has also arranged an online transmission.

Further performance with this cast on 5th November, and an alternative line-up on 3rd and 8th November

Recordings of the production will be available to view online from 17-24 November 2021 at www.gsmd.ac.uk/autumn_2021/opera_double_bill

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