16 October, the Blyth, HBAF18 By Gill Duncan
In total twenty-three local teenagers stepped onto the simply arranged stage: this season’s faces of Project Prima Volta. Part of a mentoring programme for young people that aims for social inclusion through music, they presented us with Scena: scenes from four favourite operas. This audience already knew and loved the ethos behind tonight; they were warmly responsive from the beginning.
José Aparicio introduced the first three of four acts; having directed the first two, the third was directed by its lead female voice Katherine Winitana (Musetta), and guest Glen Pickering directed the final piece. Subtitles appeared projected onto the wall above and behind the players. David Harper accompanied the whole marvellously on piano.
Opening with Act 1. Il Barbiere di Siviliglia (The Barber of Seville), by Rossini, the gang of street-wise young ‘gentlemen’ on stage had us laughing from their hip-hopping get-go. Their clever modern take on this comic opera used solemn-faced clowning around with recorders, ukulele and miniature caracas, plus humorous choreography (that had the house roaring), and was nicely done as a background to Count Almaviva’s sweetly voiced love for Rosina. The harmony of male voices was beautifully smooth and came across as entirely in the moment with an element of ‘no sweat’ and a twist in the tail.
Le Nozze Di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), by Mozart came next with the singing being less assured at times but held together by Susannah’s lovely voice that steadied and carried the scene while she kept character throughout. Acting from all players was very good within this livelier than usual piece of operatic theatre. Perhaps the action took focus away from the singing or the singing was more difficult but when Figaro, Susannah and Basilio’s voices merged there was musical magic.
After a rather extended interval La Boheme, by Puccini, Act 2. opened with Musetta’s entrance. I found this piece complicated. It was hard to follow the characters’ interactions while checking above for the translation. Musetta was dynamic on stage with a superb voice. However, with others in virtually identical costuming and static similar posturing, I was unable to distinguish between characters with any certainty. But the singing was engaging, and the pleasure of it allowed me to relax, not fuss about the detail. The final action was cleverly done.
La Traviata by Verdi, Act 1. completed the programme: the party at Violetta’s. The whole company came on stage in formal black with white shirts for the men, their hostess, Violetta, in an arresting red satin gown. Red and green champagne glasses were the only other colour on stage. This was very effective after predominantly black and white imagery, simple sets and lighting throughout. Their voices had really warmed up, the singing swelled and the chorus sounded truly joyful. The acting and stagecraft was both confident and convincing and at the end there was a palpable sense of pride in their achievement both on and off stage.
All hats off to Project Prima Volta and these talented young people. They’ll be performing Scena again on Wednesday 17 October, 6.00pm, at the Blyth Performing Arts Centre.