Royal Academy of Music double bill

L’heure espagnole – Comédie musicale in one Act to a libretto by Franc-Nohain [sung in French, with English surtitles]
Gianni Schicchi – comic opera in one Act to a libretto by Giovacchino Forzano after an episode described in Dante’s Divine Comedy [sung in Italian, with English surtitles]

Concepción – Bernadette Johns
Ramiro – Will Pate
Don Inigo Gomez – Michael Ronan
Tormequada – Ryan Vaughan Davies
Gonslave – Liam Bonthrone

Gianni Schicchi – Patrick Keefe
Lauretta – Kathleen Nic Dhiarmada
Rinuccio – Ryan Vaughan Davies
Gherardo – Samuel Kibble
Simone – Wonsick Oh
Betto – Daniel Vening
Marco – Will Pate
Nella – Sophie Sparrow
La Ciesca – Luiza Willert
Zita – Bernadette Johns
Spinelloccio / Il Notaio – Michael Ronan
Gherardina – Clara Orif
Pinellio – Johannes Moore
Guccio – Charles Cunliffe
Buoso Donati – Tom O’Kelly

Royal Academy Opera Chorus & Orchestra
Alice Farnham

Stephen Barlow – Director
Yannis Thavoris – Designer
Jake Wiltshire – Lighting Designer


5 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 23 November, 2021
Venue: Royal Academy of Music, London

Sometimes the sheer quality of the productions at some of the UK’s music academies, colleges and schools are simply astounding, and so it was here. This particular pairing of operas is not new – but to find quite so much commonality between the works, and to make these so evident is genius.

Both need to be enacted under time pressure (an amorous assignation and the illegal re-writing of a will), and the brilliance here is that musical time is so prominent. Gone are Tormequada’s clocks in the Ravel – cleverly replaced by ticking metronomes, musical instrument cases adorned with indications of tempo and time-signatures; enabling a number of terrific visual gags. Concepción’s paramours still find themselves effortlessly carried up and down stairs by Gonslave – but in double bass cases. And all the time the felicities of Ravel’s gorgeous impressionist score fly by all too fast under the sensitive Alice Farnham and her players – all having a whale of a time. The humour is gentle and winningly so. A terrific ensemble of singers, too. Bernadette Johns’s rich siren-voiced Concepción holds centre-stage and does not overplay the comedy. Will Pate’s gradual charting of the rise in Ramiro’s romantic confidence is beautifully charted, his attractive baritone sounding as trim as his stage persona. Liam Bonthrone’s self-obsessed nerdy Gonsalve is most stylish; he makes the high vocal lines sound as easy as pie and brings a wonderful ‘heady’ quality to them. Michael Ronan’s uptight slightly arrogant banker is suitably deadpan on his semi-clothed emergence from his timepiece, and his resonant voice shows real promise. Ryan Vaughan Davies does all that is possible with the somewhat thankless role of the deceived husband.

After some restorative beats ‘in the interval bar’ the audience returns for Puccini. Time has run out for poor old Buoso Donati, found slumped dead over his Steinway placed underneath his portrait in a room adorned with musical scores, reference books (including the four-volume Grove Dictionary of Opera), metronomes, instruments and objets d’art. And as usual surrounded by his dreadfully avaricious and unsympathetic family. Puccini’s indestructible comic masterpiece plays itself pretty well as ever, but there are some fantastic slapstick moments – Buoso’s body is deposited where you might expect on the set given the previous opera, and the attempts of the family to find the code for the safe where his will might be found was an inventive touch. Similarly, there are some spot-on musical jokes that could only work so well in a smallish theatre, Schicchi’s Cavaradossi-like ‘Vittoria, vittoria’ being a notable instance in point. The whole enterprise has verve and elan. The surtitles made a few free translations too to match the setting. The reduced scoring was superbly played with real swagger, only occasionally did the higher strings sound a little weak in the mix. The work is a great ensemble opportunity and the RAM sure gave us one! It the centre is Patrick Keefe’s suave and vocally assured Schicchi, relishing every word, showing great comic timing and interacting with the audience to perfection. Kathleen Nic Dhiarmada’s sensitively vocalised Lauretta, performing her aria as if giving a Wigmore Hall recital, made a strong impression and Ryan Vaughan Davies has the necessary ardent swagger for Rinuccio even if he could exploit those top notes a bit more. Wansick Oh’s cavernous voice is notable in his portrayal of Simone, and the versatility of Bernadette Johns evident in her wheelchair-bound Zita (she is unrecognisable as the earlier singer of Concepción). The rest of the cast deliver cameos of individuality and distinction. They all deserve distinctions!

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