On Friday 4th October, the inaugural Clapham Opera Festival opened with dazzling youthful vigour at the Church of the Holy Spirit on Narbonne Avenue. A carefully selected programme of Bel Canto arias explored the evening’s theme of ‘The Tribulations of Love’ – and a skilful young cast shared their talent, passion and enthusiasm for the music in a series of vibrant performances.
From its explosive opening tenor solo to its memorable quartet encore, the first evening of the Clapham Opera Festival delighted and enthralled its audience. Scenes from Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini and Verdi were performed with vigour, musicality and skill, with each excerpt being given its own dramatic setting, rather than a flat recital-style delivery. So, we did not merely hear: we saw Figaro (played delightfully by Ricardo Panela) urging Count Almaviva and Rosina to escape from the church, in a scene from Rossini’s Barber of Seville; we watched the Duke from Verdi’s Rigoletto (sung with thrilling passion by Alberto Sousa) seducing Maddalena (a ravishingly flirtatious Chloe Hinton), as the innocent Gilda gazed in horror from the far side of the piano; we waited for Figaro to coax a loveletter from a shy young Rosina (this time, played by Christina Petrou, whose voice impressed more and more throughout the programme) before disappearing into the sacristy. Each scene found its full dramatic effect, despite being removed from its opera: a testament to the power of the acting, as well as the singing. Each piece, in short, was truly brought to life by this exciting young cast.
The church itself, with its sonorous acoustic, offered a grand backdrop for each story, as its pillars, aisles and side chapels in turn suggested sections of garden, house or palace. Richard Keohane played each accompaniment with pleasing precision and dexterity, suggesting the full orchestration with his single piano. The simplicity of the piano line also allowed us to hear the singers’ voices with all the more clarity, and to admire the structure of each aria, duet or quartet without distraction. Musically, it was an absolute treat.
Meanwhile, however, our ears were not this festival’s only target! We were treated to a stimulation of all our senses, including wine from Wine Story, homemade sausage rolls by new local butcher Ginger Pig, and verveine-scented programmes created by Les Senteurs – whose research about scent and fashion in the Bel Canto era, printed in the fragranced centre pages, was truly fascinating. I have never before wanted to bring an opera programme home – AND then keep it under my pillow! Opera is a multi-faceted art form, and this multi-sensory approach is exciting, enjoyable, and makes perfect sense – while being thrillingly innovative. High praise should go to Marie Soulier and Adam Swann, the organising influences behind the scenes.
London is lucky enough to have many opera festivals, but Friday night proved there is always room for more talent. After the rapturous applause and standing ovation had died down, one fact remained: Clapham Opera Festival’s assured debut means it is here to stay.
This review also appears here on the website of the Church of the Holy Spirit Clapham.