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Congleton Choral Society, Congleton, Cheshire, UK

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A Night At The Opera
Congleton Town Hall, 5th April 2014

Review by Gwen Jones published in the Congleton Chronicle 24th April 2014. Gwen recently retired after many years as Musical Director of Biddulph Male Voice Choir.

A Night at the Opera – and what a brilliant night it was

People ask 'What is opera?' It is stylish, funny, dazzling, often beautiful, often sad, cruel, warm-hearted, serious and even sexy. It is a form of music and drama that has enriched our lives for hundreds of years. That is what Congleton Choral Society, with four excellent guest artistes, gave us on 5 th April in the Town Hall. It was an evening to cherish and remember, and to be proud that we, the audience, could hear such quality in our own town.

True to form, the concert began with the overture to Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, transcribed for piano with four hands and performed by the conductor, Christopher Cromar and the guest accompanist Dominic John. It was dynamic, exciting, full of character, with both players in complete harmony with each other.

We're off to north-east Spain to hear our chorus, now as gypsies, singing and celebrating the joys of wine, pretty girls and hard work as they wake everyone up with their anvil bashing. Next our first guest, mezzo soprano Jessica Gillingwater, sang with great sincerity and simplicity the moving aria What is life without Eurydice from Gluck's Orfeo.

On our musical journey suddenly we were enjoying the Easter Hymn from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. This is the first opera I ever saw at the age of 17 after saving three weeks' pocket money for a seat in 'the gods' (back three rows, upper gallery!) I was enchanted by it all. The devotional singing of the chorus, celebrating Christ's victory over death and allowing us to hear the second guest soloist, soprano Helen Massey, was very moving and led to a lovely climax.

Up until now we had not heard the third guest soloist, tenor Aaron Cawley. As he sang the aria When the stars were brightly shining from Puccini's Tosca, I was amazed at the power of the voice from such a slender young man. At times the voice almost had a light baritone quality as well as the lyrical sound of a young man awaiting execution.

Now off to Russia for the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin's Prince Igor. This was one of the most beautiful moments for me as the sopranos began to sing. Their sound was absolutely stunning, so well blended and pure in quality. A word too for the altos who blended so well together. This is a difficult chorus with its changing moods, exotic dance rhythms, key changes and various vocal contributions, but this was no problem for our chorus.

We are still in Russia for Tchaikovsky's Waltz Scene from Eugene Onedin, now enjoying a party to which all the locals had been invited. What a feast! What joy! This was so apparent in the performance as they rejoiced in food, drink and dancing. This was not the waltz of Vienna, but one full of rustic unsophisticated charm!

Our guest soloists then gave us some operatic treats. The ever-appealing Oh my beloved father from Gianni Schicci was followed by Nessun Dorma from Turandot, and the Habanera from Carmen in which Carmen sings of her untamed love. She is manipulative and magnetic. She is sensual and sexy! The chorus try to warn young men of the danger but…..! Jessica Gillingwater as Carmen produced a lovely sound, but a little more seduction and sensuality would not be amiss here.

For half a century Verdi dominated Italian opera and at his funeral at the age of 87, over 20,000 people were present. Caro Nome from Rigoletto is sung by Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter. She has fallen in love with a student (in reality the Duke of Mantua – a rakish noble). This is a very demanding aria, technically, dramatically, and musically, and was sung so well by Helen Massey – bravo!

The end of this tremendous programme nears with Verdi's La Traviata, and finally the Triumphal Scene from Aida. Brindisi from La Traviata brought in the tenor and soprano soloists, who were well-matched and the joy captured by the chorus and soloists was uplifting, although those who know opera realise that all will soon change (as it does in so many operas!).

On a final journey, we rejoice in the triumphant scene from Verdi's Aida. Having seen this opera at least twice in Verona with the great Serafin conducting, it never ceases to thrill. Again, the joy of Radames' victory in battle between Egypt and Ethiopia is the scene of a triumphal march into Thebes (soon to introduce many tragic situations). Well done to the male chorus too.

Thanks to all who took part in this evening's operatic journey with so many memorable moments to cherish. We can say a big thank you to the Choral Society's great inspirational conductor Christopher Cromar who made all this possible. He must be proud of you all.

I don't usually add a PS, but for once I must make a special mention of the guest accompanist, Dominic John, whose playing throughout was absolutely brilliant - the best accompanist I have ever heard.

GJ


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