Manor is the latest addition to the ranks of country-house opera festivals.
It uses the tiny cloister in the ravishingly beautiful terraced gardens
of a fine 18th-century mansion in a wooded valley near Bath.
Although it is not really very practical — the cloister seats only
90 and the sight-lines are awkward — the setting has enormous charm.
Opera della Lana’s simple and cheerful production of Robinson Crusoe,
one of Offenbach’s more substantial operettas, made for a pleasant
One outstanding performer calls for comment — Victoria Joyce is
simply enchanting as the heroine Edwige. With her bright, light lyric
soprano, easy coloratura and Gaiety Girl glamour, she reminded me of the
much-missed ENO star of the 1980s, Valerie Masterson. Let’s hope
her talent is nurtured.
The Daily Telegraph 22/07/04
comic opera had been cast away in a far-flung corner of the repertoire
when Opera della Luna rescued it in 1994. The company’s speciality
is staging pieces generally thought lunatic for far bigger companies to
contemplate and now, as it celebrates a defiant decade, Crusoe gets a
Iford Manor’s tiny Italianate cloister has a captivating atmosphere.
But since it accommodates an audience of just 90 on three sides and a
handful of musicians on the fourth, the challenge of opera in the square
could hardly be greater. Yet Della Luna’s shoe-string resourcefulness
could teach the big boys a thing or two: the Crusoe family drawing room
is transformed in seconds into the ship on billowing waves that takes
Robinson to the Orinoco.
Offenbach pokes huge fun at religion in this piece, and director Jeff
Clarke’s witty translation underlines why son of the manse Robinson
is a headstrong tearaway before he’s a castaway. Oliver White made
him an attractive character. The libretto sails close to the wind in PC
terms, but shipwreck was averted by the casting of Samoan Sani Muliaumaseali’i
as a noble Man Friday. A tenor with baritone richness, Muliaumaseali’i
The production was not without its travesty element, though, with Simon
Butteriss's Lady Crusoe a pantomime dame that suited Offenbach's deliberately
farcical moments. That Butteriss went on to play the cannibal chef and
a dastardly pirate illustrates how neatly Clarke juggled seven singers,
two dancers and the implausible plot. Victoria Joyce was Crusoe’s
silver voiced fiancée Edwina, and conductor John Gibbons’s
deft handling of her lyrical aria and the final trio with Crusoe and Friday
suggested there are good musical reasons for staging Offenbach oftener.
The Guardian 12/07/04
IT’S the view
of translator-director Jeff Clarke that this rarely-seen Offenbach comic
opera is vastly underrated. When seen in the beautiful, unusual setting
of the Cloisters at Iford Manor, in which the score by John Gibbons fitted
perfectly, there would be few who would argue.
Thanks to expert set design from Catherine Deverill and Nigel Howard,
you could not but be drawn fully into the story. Conductor John Andrews
maintained a fine balance between the singers and an admirable orchestra
of quality musicians.
Oliver White’s light tenor captured the spirit of Robinson Crusoe
and coloratura soprano Victoria Joyce was at her best in the dramatic
Fire scene. Rosemary Ashe and Harry Nicoll drew plenty of fun from their
roles as the maid and her grocer husband.
Simon Butteriss scored a double winner as Mrs Crusoe and a Bristol barber
gone native, and John Fernon combined the roles of father, native chief
and pirate captain.
But Sani Muliaumaseali’i stole a little of all their thunder with
his imposing, regal Man Friday.
Vocally interpreting the music so well and creating so much enjoyment,
they were all very welcome.
Bristol Evening Post 09/07/04
THERE is little
point in attending an Opera della Luna production if you don’t want
fun and entertainment with your classical music, for there are few companies
more dedicated and skillful in the art of forging relationships with their
audience. It’s the second year that the company has come to Iford,
and after 2003’s sensational La Belle Helene, director and adaptor
Jeff Clark chose Offenbach's rarely performed Robinson Crusoe, It’s
the ideal opera for the area. The story, based on Daniel Defoe’s
enthralling retelling of the real life adventures of Alexander Selkirk,
starts (as it did in reality) in Bristol. Young Robinson, desperate for
adventure, sets of to make his fortune. He is cast away on a hostile island,
set upon by pirates and then rescued by his nearest and dearest, come
out of Bristol to find him whatever the cost. It’s a pantomimic
story and Jeff Clarke is alive to all the possibilities it provides. He
came to, Iford or the first time last year and immediately grasped the
dramatic potential afforded by this tiny intimate space. This time he
used the Cloister even better, and the design team ingeniously created
a ship with billowing sails in a sea of blue waves, before our eyes with
the aid of headstands, drapes and a few strategically placed cup hooks.
Marvelous stuff! The story is familiar, which can be a blessing for opera
audiences after fathoming their way through the convolution of a Handel
plot. This was a cast of established stars and stars of the future.
Rosemary Ashe, a major West End musical star and soon to be seen in Cameron
Mackintosh’s new Mary Poppins at Bristol Hippodrome and onwards,
reprised her music college role of Suzanne, the comic maid, anda wonderful
performance it was. She was ably matched by oratorio expert Harry Nicoll
as Toby the errand boy. Robinson is a massive role, heroically sung and
acted by Oliver White.
To the delight, of Iford audiences, Simon Butteriss was back in the cloister
again, this time as the archly mercurial Jim Cocks and a Whistler’s
Mother of a Lady Deborah Crusoe. Some members of the audience criticised
this pantomime dame reading. I thought it brilliantly successful. Victoria
Joyce joined the company at short notice to sing Edwina, Robinson’s
beloved, and it ‘was a happy substitution. She has a glorious voice
and a delightful style.
The revelation of the show was Samoan Sani Muliaumaseali’i as Man
Friday. With a beautiful voice, a winning personality and undoubted physical
charms, this young singer should go a very long way. Jeff Clark’s
libretto was witty without vulgarity, and the orchestra, conducted by
John Andrews and then John Gibbons, enjoyed their role in the proceedings.
Come back soon, Opera della Luna.
Fosseway Magazine 24/07/04