One of the odd gifts of reviewing opera regularly is that you are sometimes exposed to violently clashing influences within the space of a few days. On Friday, I was enveloped in the passionate intensity of Fulham Opera’s bleak, immersive Der fliegende Holländer; on Tuesday, I found myself at New Sussex Opera’s community production of Ambroise Thomas’s unrepentantly twee romance Mignon. It was rather like tucking into the finest Chateaubriand steak, before turning to a shelf-stale vanilla cupcake laced with inch-thick pink icing.
Thomas’ score sounds exactly as you would expect. The exception is Philine’s extraordinary, dazzling Titania aria, which blazes like a Roman candle of originality in the otherwise beige fog of multipurpose music-that-sounds-Romantic-and-French. It was all nicely done; I felt just inexpressibly bored, as cardboard scene morphed into cardboard scene, the paper-thin plot wilting away in front of me as the hours stretched ahead. Like a doll you have to shake hard to make its eyes open, Mignon will calmly suck up all a director’s energy and ideas, and still only stumble across a stage: I still found myself drawn in eventually, rather like a bad film that you accidentally light upon while scrolling through the TV channels with a hangover, and find yourself still watching 45 minutes later, inexplicably mesmerised. But if this really was all opera had to offer today, I would give up.