Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Pleasant evening of popular opera choruses loosely set around an office and its Christmas party. True to all operas, this one never let the plot get in the way of a good tune.
To Broughton St Mary’s, another of those wonderful churches set deep in the heart of Edinburgh’s architecturally sublime New Town, for an office party thinly disguised as a series of opera choruses.
Aria Alba – Opera For All is a community opera group that does just what it says on the tin; it offers the opportunity for a wide variety of people with a similarly wide range of abilities the chance to sing and perform opera live. And it’s clear that age is no barrier in this group – the chorus contains bus pass holders, those in the prime of life and, most encouragingly for the genre, a significant number of very able young singers.
This year’s offering is set around an office – it could be almost any professional services business in Edinburgh – complete with all the usual shenanigans and politics. It’s a typical opera plot with love, intrigue, betrayal, dashingly handsome young men (well, a couple anyway) and ladies with wobbling vibratos. But, true to any opera, the plot never gets in the way of a good tune and there were plenty to enjoy here in this two hour programme, complete with a tea and biscuits interval to give the ears a bit of a break.
As ever with a community group, the quality of the voices was variable and the balance a bit skewed towards the higher end of the range. But, a rather pedestrian Va Pensiero apart, the chorus pretty much nailed everything they were involved in, even if they were one or two basses short of an ensemble. The company deserves top marks as well for some of the solos they included in a varied programme that included works from the well-known (Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Offenbach, Mozart) to others less frequently aired. Highlights included new words to “The List” from the Mikado, humorously delivered by the very capable Joanna Bleu, Monster Away (Arne) from the expressive Catherine Aitken, Che Gelida Manina from the debonair Tim Riley, an evocative Je Veux Vivre from the fine young voice of Beccy Roberts and a robust Ch’il Bel Sogno (Puccini) from the delightful Rosie Simpson.
But, good as these soloists clearly were, they were completely upstaged by the mesmeric O Don Fatale (Verdi) delivered with passion, precision and power from the impressive Finnish soprano Essi Purhonen. Her rich, rounded voice filled the hall with a sound that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. A regular performer in her home country, this young professional must surely soon attract the attention of someone in the UK so, if anyone from Scottish Opera stumbles upon this review, sign this lass up before someone else gets her.
Musical direction from Jake Hardiment was assured and Michael Gajzler’s piano accompaniment was sympathetic on the few occasions that it looked as though a soloist might lose the plot and robust when driving the chorus forward.
Some of the dialogue lacked definition and segue ways were rather stilted but perhaps this will self-correct as the cast get further into their short run. But this was a small price to pay for what was an enjoyable evening’s entertainment, offering opera that’s accessible to all – singers and audience. Just the result Aria Alba were no doubt hoping to achieve. Recommended for anyone who is supportive of the opera genre.