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What kind of opera strikes the iciest fear into the critic’s heart? ‘Contemporary,’ you cry! But no – the answer is operetta: it’s the hope, you see, the fizz, frivolity and lax morals, the wise, loveable idea that serious subjects are best broached through silliness. So often this results in purgatorial evenings that feel as if they will will never end – the worst of them precisely when the cast appears to be having just amazing fun up on the stage. Thus one approaches beloved pieces like Off enbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld with clenched hope and foreboding – particularly when, as here, it is performed by a multi-lingual cast of student operetta neophytes in a mix of sung French and spoken English.

Well, I needn’t have worried too much. The Royal Academy of Music’s production was oddly tentative but eventually reached decent levels of entertainment, though the nervous cast took a long time to get into it, and the routines devised by director Martin Duncan and choreographer Steve Elias were a mite pallid and old-school. I’ve certainly never seen such a decorous cancan, though it went down well with the Hackney crowd (and I hope the college’s peregrinations while its theatre is rebuilt have shown a few new people how high the standards usually are).

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About Opera Now

Christophe Rousset celebrates a quarter century at the forefront of the Early Music scene with Les Talens Lyriques; Sir John Eliot Gardiner takes Monteverdi’s three surviving operas on tour around the world; and our guide to the brightest and best opera festivals of 2017. Plus, remembering the velvet voice of Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda; individuality and imagination in the songs of Arthur Sullivan; Debussy’s ravishing Pelléas lets down its hair at Garsington; American baritone Scott Hendricks shares his love of playing bad boys; the art of the librettist; British conductor Nicholas Chalmers; and an 80th birthday tribute to Grace Bumbry.
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