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Review: The Thieving Magpie, Midland Opera at the Crescent Theatre

Midland Opera continues to pursue its noble ideals of bringing the world's important operas right into the heart of Birmingham, and with their recent run of Rossini's Thieving Magpie those aims are devotedly achieved.

The Thieving Magpie, Midland Opera at the Crescent Theatre
***

Though the company may be amateur, Midland Opera continues to pursue its noble ideals of bringing the world's important operas right into the heart of Birmingham, and with their recent run of Rossini's Thieving Magpie those aims are devotedly achieved.

Economics have decreed belt-tightening, so MO can no longer engage a full orchestra, but musical director James Longstaffe has created a reduced scoring which actually enhances Rossini's orchestration. The famous sidedrum rolls rattle out chillingly, and the one trombone (looking so sad in a complete orchestra-list) here has a tremendous presence. Well done the Queens Park Sinfonia.

There were some wonderful moments of musical delivery when soloists took flight, but there were also leaden passages when we could have done with more nuance from Longstaffe's left hand. And some staging and lighting hiatuses were obviously attributable to first-nightitis.

Sarah Helsby-Hughes' direction was generally direct and lively (though the placing of two major characters virtually in the stage-right wings during the courtroom scene was a bit of a blunder), and the set was efficiently simple.

As Ninetta, the falsely-accused servant-girl, Abigail Kelly was simply brilliant. Still young, she can boast an upper register into estremis which is mature, bright and clear, and she projects both musically and dramatically with cultured poise. Yes, she has a vibrato to her tone, but it's never intrusive.

Robert Tilson was her fiance Gianetto, attractive in persona but harsh in timbre, Devon Harrison was engaging as his father, and Wendy Silvester placed her notes well as his mother, Lucia.

Roger Hanke scored a comedic triumph in dual roles as pedlar and prison warder, and the MO chorus belied their numbers, projecting singing of great linear and harmonic clarity.

But I can't end without a mention of the wonderful kleptomaniac magpie, deftly manipulated by Deborah Johnson, who also did a tremendous ventriloquist's job, croaking and growling away.

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