This year’s fall opera production from the Glenn Gould School is John Blow’s 1683(?) masque Venus and Adonis. For those not familiar with the genre the masque was a court entertainment combining music, dance, poetry and drama. Here the framing story is the brief love affair between Venus and handsome young Adonis who is unfortunately gored to death by a boar. The main sub plot concerns Venus giving sage advice to Cupid and his band of little cupids. In between there are hunting choruses, dance and extracts from Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
This is all cleverly integrated in Derek Boyes’ production which also makes good use of all parts of Mazzoleni Hall, not just the stage. The Shakespeare extracts are presented as if shepherdesses and their swains (who else?) are performing for Venus and her court. Singers double (and triple) up as Shepherds, Graces and Huntsmen. It’s well paced, all the elements work and there is a very effective band; strings, lute and winds, conducted by Peter Tiefenbach from the keyboards.
The main “operatic” element falls on the trio of Venus, Adonis and Cupid. Elena Howard-Scott makes a most convincing goddess. She has a lovely voice (though it might be shown to better effect by something later than the 17th century), she acts well and she’s a very graceful mover. Colin Mackey’s Adonis is given in a bluff baritone that works really well most of the time. When it doesn’t it’s because he’s hit an acoustic awkward spot in the hall… the curse of Mazzoleni. He’s also a solid actor. It’s particularly good to see a real countertenor in Christian Masucci-Facchini singing Cupid. He’s not a wimpy countertenor either. It’s a big sinewy, masculine voice which, combined with an equally large masculine frame, makes for a very interesting take on Cupid.
It’s pretty hard to tell from the programme who was doing what in the Shakespeare elements but based on the photo credits it was Ben Loyst as a rather excellent Romeo and Oberon and, therefore, it must have been Simon Gidora as a very funny Bottom. Jeffrey Liu (I think) was a rather sinister Puck with Ella Farlinger as Titania and Emma McNeill as Juliet. The Little Cupids were charming especially the bossy Estella Roberts. Emma MacNeil was an effective comic foil as a rather gauche and clumsy shepherdess.
All in all this was great fun and a charming way to spend an hour and a quarter. It was also my first chance, I think, to see the three principals who I most certainly want to catch again. There’s another performance tonight at 7.30pm.
Photo credits: Stewart Lowe