Browse reviews

FringeReview UK 2024

Trinity Laban Spring Opera Scenes

Trinity Laban Opera

Genre: Music, Opera and Operatic Theatre

Venue: Blackheath Halls


Low Down

Passionate performances by opera students in a very varied selection of opera scene, intelligently directed by Trinity Laban teaching staff, made for a very entertaining and emotionally engaging evening.


Opera Scenes are a great way for emerging soloists to learn stage craft and working with other performers in a safe setting.  It is a lot harder than it looks to pick the right scenes to showcase and also challenge, but not overtax young singers.  Trinity Laban Opera’s team, consisting of the directors Jennifer Hamilton, Deborah Lea, Gidon Saks and Eleanor Strutt, and the musical directors Robert Bottriell, Vicente Chavarría, Kelvin Lim and Panaretos Kyriatzidis, were overall very successful with the choices they have made.

The performances ran over four days rotating scenes and performers.  I caught the second performance with Scenes from Richard Strauss’ Arabella, Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco, Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

There were actually two scenes from Arabella, both directed by Saks.  First up where Imogen Woodhead as Adelaide and Caity Farrant Shaw as The Fortune Teller in an unusual comic staging of this first scene of the opera.  Both singers were courageously over the top in their interpretation of these, in the original, stereotypically painted mature women.  Zdenka (sung sweetly by Natalie Sternberg), was so caught up in her love letter writing and reading, that she barely noticed the hysterical shenanigans, which were going on around her.  We then swiftly moved towards the end of the opera for the second scene.  Here, the protagonist Arabella, portrayed very sensually by an expressive Rebecca Howard, meets Mandryka, played as a very sensitive man by Felix Wareing, and they fall in love in a long conversation that is repeatedly interrupted by Arabella’s other admirers. It was nice to see these cameo roles filled with subtext and distinguishable from each other.  Dominik (Oliver Freyne) is awkward and stiff, while Elemar (Alex Christie) is pompous and rather too full of himself.

This followed by a bigger ensemble scene from Nabucco directed by Hamilton.  In this busy scene Nabucco (sung by George Salmon) is at first thought to be dead and his daughter Abigaile (Ling Chen) seizes his crown. When her father unexpectedly arrives he takes the crown back from her and falls into a blasphemous frenzy, leading to a higher power knocking his crown from his head for it to be seized by his daughter again.  This is witnessed by his other daughter Fenena (Miranda Ostler) and her love interest, the political prisoner Ismaele (Anthony Colasanto). Other onlookers are the soldier Abdallo (Yan Sze Tan), the local high priest (Daniel Chomiak), the high priest of Ismaele’s people Zaccaria (Henry Sinous) and his sister Anna (Hannah Wardrop), who also loves Ismaele. The costumes were uniformly black, which made the very choreographed staging look rather impressive, but without surtitles it was at times hard to figure out who was who and what exactly was going on.

The last scenes before the interval was a very eerie setting of The Turn of the Screw again by Saks. The cast of six showcased three scenes from the opera that gave each of the singers a chance to shine in extended solo pieces.  Issy Roberts played an idealistic Governess, who very quickly is overwhelmed by what is going on.  Miss Grose, the housekeeper, ably performed by Scarlett Jones, is not much support either.  The children where played by Anna Yule as a formidably boyish and very convincing Miles and Zara Donaldson who was a very childish Flora, making her turn to the dark side so much more shocking.  The ghost pair were equally spooky.  Andrew Woodmansey’s interpretation made Peter Quint appear vile to the audience while behaving as a cuddling friend towards the children. Megan Artemova-Thomas sang a subdued Miss Jessel, who even though she was dead, was still in Quint’s thrall.  Her snakelike movements throughout the opera made her appear as if her movements were controlled by the evil spirit.  The end of the opera was successfully shocking to even those who know it well.  I found this was the most successful of all scenes conveying a real scene of horror to the audience.

After the interval we got to see a small scene from the beginning of the second half of The Rake’s Progress, again directed by Hamilton.  Ah Hyun Kim gave a lovely sweet and innocent Anne Truelove, while Riddhiman Dutta’s interpretation of Tom Rakewell was gentler than he is usually interpreted giving the scene a poignancy that was surprising.  Espanelle Metellus clearly enjoyed being a bossy and difficult Baba.

For the last scenes of the night Kyriatzidis swapped the conductor’s desk for the piano, where Bottriell had been accompanying the previous scenes.  The baton was taken by Chavarría for Don Giovanni.  Natalia Kurpanik, Alex Milne and Sarah Richardson joined as a wind trio.

Minglu Gao as Donna Anna and Anthony Colasanto as Don Ottavio made a sweet couple and their voices blended nicely.  Gao came across as a woman in control of her destiny seeking the help of a neighbour.  In stark contrast was Jennifer Morafkova’s Donna Elvira, played as a woman desperate to be heard, which suited her voice perfectly.  Dominic Felts’ Don Giovanni was callous in this scene but became more so in the next. Served exquisite food by his servant Leporello, Giovanni is arrogant and has only contempt for others.  This leaves Leporello in fear of his master and drives him to the bottle.  Tim Mays interpretation of Leporello was humane and compassionate.  Johannes Gerges’ Commendatore had more than a whiff of Count Dracula about him and was rather spooky.  This seemed to have no effect on the bragging Giovanni and his unrepentant attitude leads ultimately to his demise, witnessed by all the other protagonists.  While Donna Anna is strengthened in her resolve Colasanto’s Ottavio becomes a reassuring spouse.  Leporello yet again seeks solace in alcohol after Elivra has refused to be consoled by him.  Talitha Jones’ Zerlina and Oliver Freyne’s Masetto are reduced to cameos in this very last scene of the opera, however Hamilton found some subtext for them to play out nicely upstage.

Overall a very successful evening offering a broad selection of genres and musical styles.  It was a joy to see the enthusiasm with which every student threw themselves into this production.  Both Saks and Hamilton found something for every character, however small the role and this truly showed.  These opera scenes are an essential part in the training of an emerging opera singer and with free entrance I highly recommend them as a starting point for those who want to give opera a try in an non-judgmental atmosphere.  Blackheath Halls bar offers a chance to catch up with the performers after the show.