The story ends sadly but the audience at the end of this compact little show came out with huge smiles of delight.
This co-production of Handel’s charming pastoral masque is a joint enterprise between MidWales Opera and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and radiates joyful freshness, total commitment, and generous sharing of skills. Some of the performances on this near year-long national tour are given by student forces; others, such as this in Hereford’s comfortable and welcoming Courtyard, feature gifted young professionals still at the exciting lift-off stage of their careers.
Tucked at the side of the stage is the expert, pint-sized Brecon Baroque, warmly resonant boxwood oboes, piping little recorders and all, suavely and enthusiastically marshalled by Nicholas Cleobury from the keyboard.
The performing area itself centres on a fascinatingly versatile box, its sides opening out in all sorts of ways (rather like a child’s set of illustrated hinged bricks) to reveal cutouts of Arcadian landscapes with well-deployed hidden entrances and exits; a brilliant design by Nicky Shaw, so resourcefully lit by Declan Randall.
Director Annilese Miskimmon deserves everyone’s gratitude for not stifling this simple little offering with some obscure “take”. Instead she allows us all to revel in the picture-book innocence of the context, moving her singers naturally and deftly around the performing area, and employing some telling baroque gestures to make expressive points.
And the singers respond with flair, exemplary diction, and heartwarming teamwork, not least on this occasion when Caroline Kennedy emerged from the tiny chorus to sing arias for the laryngally-stricken Galatea of Jane Harrington, who mimed her part; the synchronicity and empathy between the two was amazing.
Harrington was totally appealing as Galatea, her Acis was ardently portrayed by Oliver Mercer, and Matthew Stiff was wonderful as the haplessly villainous cyclopean monster Polyphemus. We couldn’t help but warm to him.
* Forthcoming visits nearest to our region are February 15 Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon (01874 611622) and September 27 Ludlow Assembly Rooms (01584 878141).