Mansfield Park review

STUDENTS EXCEL IN RBC SUMMER OPERA

MANSFIELD PARK
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire at Crescent Theatre, Birmingham *****
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's Vocal Department has come up yet again with a winning choice of opera to showcase the ensemble skills of its talented students.
This summer it is Jonathan Dove's Mansfield Park, set to a libretto by Alasdair Middleton which does its adroit best to make sense of Jane Austen's convoluted tangle, and which, in an instantly communicative score both pays tribute to pre-existing models (some wonderful time-stopping set-pieces) and affords a springboard to promising young singers.
As usual the show is double-cast, and the one I heard on Saturday afternoon was remarkable (as were the mute servant supernumaries). The work is slightly too overpowering for the compact Studio here (the opening full-company entry came as quite a shock), and it takes quite a time to figure out each character and their motivations (I tried to read the novel but gave up).
But Michael Barry, sadly directing his 40th and last RBC opera, makes sense of all the dramatic comings and goings, and his choreography in the ball scene is a marvel of eloquent economy of movement and period style (perfect costumes, by the way).
Paul Wingfield conducts a flexible, sonorous little orchestra, some of whose members had regaled us with a refreshing Mozart Oboe Quartet as we took our seats, though some of his entry-cues to the singers seemed redundant. given the CCTV screens dotted around.
Invidious to pick out individual cast members, but Samantha Lewis patiently built the Cinderella-like character of Fanny Price, Aaron Kendall was a sympathetic Edmund (a typical Austen downtrodden cleric), and, above all, Holly Teague simply astounded as a Mary Crawford too sophisticated for these country bumpkins.
Her stage-presence (such lingering eyes!) was mesmerising, her command of the highest of ranges makes her a shoe-in for Mozart and Strauss, and I shall follow her career with great interest.
Christopher Morley

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