Tag Archives: Duncan Ward


reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 14 November

Some folk- and fairy-tale characters have the images of our first encounters with them so firmly fixed in our minds that it is difficult to imagine them otherwise. In Britain, generations of pantomime productions have further reinforced this glue.

Operatically speaking, Rossini’s 1817 Cenerentola with its philosopher-tutor as the deus ex machina, has been permitted to enter the charmed world of this acceptance. Now the Glyndebourne Tour suggests that Massenet’s 1889 Cendrillon attempts to prise the gates wider open.

If you’ve never seen the opera before, which is almost certainly true of most of us in this country, Fiona Shaw’s production creates something of a bewildering introduction. Set designer Jon Bausor makes the staging a matter of deceptive mirrors (not always helped by Anna Watson’s lighting).

Massenet was a supreme master of lush lyricism – the audible equivalent of art nouveau. The sound swirls around us, both from the orchestra pit under Duncan Ward and the large cast on stage. At times the action (including Nicky Gillibrand’s costumes) is overly distracting.

Lucette, the Cinderella of the title, was sung at the Norwich first night by understudy Jennifer Witton, who thoroughly deserved her curtain applause. Another stand-out performance is that of Caroline Wettergreen as the glinting grey-furred Fairy, tossing off her vocalise in steely Queen of the Night fashion.

Pandolfe is Lucette’s loving but basically ineffectual father, and William Dazeley conveys both aspects of the man, especially in his Act Four scenes with his daughter. A battle-axe guaranteed to slice fierce and hard sums up Agnes Zwierko’s stepmother Mme de la Haltière; she sings as well as she acts.

Librettist Henri Cain and Massenet makes the Prince a breeches role; Eléonore Pancrazi takes us effortlessly into his rôle-seeking teenage world where the boundaries between everyday reality (even for royalty) and scarce-perceived yearning extend yet crumble.

The chorus and the dancers blend seamlessly together, thanks to Sarah Fahie’s inventive choreography. Massenet’s skill is in wrapping a diaphanous web of sound around us. I’m not sure that we also need its mirrored reflexion.

Four star rating.

Cendrillon has another performance at the Norwich Theatre Royal on 17 November and is also at the Milton Keynes Theatre on 28 November and 1 December. It plays in repertoire with La traviata (Norwich on 16 November, Milton Keynes on 27 and 30 November).

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Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Don Pasquale

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 17 November)

It’s a classic comedy story, as old as love and lust – not to mention greed – themselves. Impecunious young man wants to marry an equally badly-off young widow. His uncle threatens to disinherit him. A friend steps in to remedy the situation. Between this beginning and (sort of) conclusion there’s a vast open space for composer, librettist, stage director and designer to fill.

Marianne Clément (who staged the 2011 Glyndebourne production) and Paul Higgins (responsible for the Glyndebourne Tour revival) add some twists to the apparently simple tale. They’re abetted by designer Julia Hansen to present us with a circular red-curtained setting within which revolves three distinct personal spaces flexible enough to allow for a few more abstract ones.

Flitting between them all is John Brancy’s well-sung and acted Dr Malatesta. One feels that he would be struck off any professional medical register; there’s a tinge of Offenbach’s Dr Miracle in the way he steps from one room setting to the next. Not to mention his relationship with Eliana Pretorian’s sexy minx of a Norina, engagingly sung but leaving one wondering how quickly she will tire of Tuomas Katajala’s puppy-dog Ernesto.

There’s a slightly anachronistic air to the costumes – lots of Boucher and Fragonard erotic references but also a hint of classic 19th century French farce and even a whiff of Sofia Coppela’s 1988 Marie Antoinette. With all this engaging the eye, it would be easy to relegate Donizetti’s lilting score to the background, but the cast, the bewigged, powdered and white-silk clad chorus and the orchestra under Duncan Ward pull us back into a due sense of proportion.

José Fardilha takes the title role with true buffo style; his one-breath patter songs – including the Act III Scene I duet with Malatesta – deserve their applause. it’s a merit of this production that we oh-so-slightly care about the plights in which Don Pasquale and Ernesto find themselves rather than being mere disinterested spectators of something which, however memorable the music and accomplished the singers, is so far removed from real life. Let alone its pains and penalties.

Don Pasquale is also at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 19 November.

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Filed under Opera, Reviews 2015