A Night At The Opera

London Festival Opera

Lichfield Garrick


THIS was a bit like one of those free compilation CDs so beloved by the more heavyweight nationals – Top of the Opera Pops . . . Live!

Not that there is anything wrong with that mind. For opera lovers there were plenty of old favourites and for the less sure of foot in the heady world of Verdi and Puccini there were lots of good, familiar bits, thanks to TV advertising in many cases without the less exciting recitative bits full-blown opera in between the arias.

The quality of singing was there for all to see while the introductions by  the group's founder and artistic director, baritone Philip Blake-Jones were both amusing and informative so you not only heard the aria but also knew which character was singing it in which opera and why they were happy, in despair or whatever.

The five singers seemed to have an imedidiate rapprt with the audience from the off, opening with the drinking song from Verdi's La Traviata, Libiamo, libiamo ne' lieti calici.

German Mezzo-Soprano Yvonne Fontane, a stunning lady who has made Bizet's Carmen something of a specialty, even sang the well known Habanera in the audience handing out her favours – or at least red roses – to the quite-willing-to-be-seduced male members.

Not to be outdone baritone Quentin Hayes was up and down the aisles with his scissors for Largo al factotum from Rossini's The Barber of Seville. Male members, particularly those having difficulty preserving a show of strength atop the skull, were less willing in his case. I suspect though that there may well have been queues for haircuts had he handed the scissors to Miss Fontane.


Blake-Jones had his moment with The Birdcatcher's Song from The Magic Flute by Mozart. He has a fine voice but sadly is a strong contender in the world's worst Pan's pipe player category – a fact he manfully admitted to much amusement between tuneless puffs.

Tenor John Pierce, who represented Wales in the BBC's Cardiff Singer of the World competition this year, had perhaps the most dramatic aria with Puccini's E lucevan le stele, And the Stars Shone, the bitter cry of despair by the condemned artist Cavaradoss who realises he will never see his lover Tosca again.

At the top of the scale, musically, was young soprano Caroline MacPhie who has a beautifully clear voice which she showed in Je Veiux Vivre from Gounod's Romeo and Juliet and her duet with Fontane, The Flower Duet, Sous le dôme épais, was a highlight. It's from from Delibes opera Lakmé not the British Airway's ad agency incidentally.

The quintet moved into the lighter world of operetta for the final quarter starting with the Brightly Dawns Our Wedding Day madrigal from Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado and ending with Im Feuerstrom der Reben, by happy coincidence another drinking song, from Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus.

The encore was The Cat Duet, Duetto buffo di due gatti, which has its origins on Rossini's Otello had the novelty of being arranged for five.

Keeping the evening in time and in tune superbly were  Jenny Trew on piano and Kate Grace on flute. 30-09-11

Roger Clarke


Meanwhile telling arias from elbows . . .


FIVE quality singers brought all the joy and drama of opera to life for an enthusiastic audience in this sparkling one-nighter.

After one of the hottest days of the year they appropriately began and ended a tasty programme with drinking songs - Libiamo, libiamo ne' lieti calici from Verdi's La Traviata and Im Feuerstrom der Reben from Strauss's Die Fledermaus.

In between there was a virtual banquet of classics, with tenor John Pierce (he represented Wales in this year's BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition) setting the pace with La donna e mobile from Rigoletto; soprano Caroline MacPhie delighting with The Waltz Song from Romeo and Juliet; and baritone Quentin Hayes in trim with Largo al factotum from The Barber of Seville.

Yvonne Fontane (mezzo soprano) teased the audience by strolling round the stalls and offering roses to men as she sang Habanera from Carmen, and after the interval Pierce and Hayes impressed with The Pearl Fishers Duet, then Fontane gave a superb performance of Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix from Samson and Delila

Philip Blake-Jones (baritone), director and founder of London Festival Opera, introduced each item on the programme as well as joining in, and music was beautifully provided by Jenny Trew (piano) and Kate Grace (flute).

Paul Marston 


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