Theatrically voluptuous, picturesquely medieval Indian, director Ella Marchment’s take on the neglected Massenet work plays well to the strengths of Dorset Opera; a knock-out, strong chorus, fine young players and singers, with expert guidance.
The opera’s fantastical story is another tale of the mercifuly gods allowing a betrayed dead lover return to his beloved – this time think Vedic scripture rather than the usual Greek gods – with the context being a Hindu kingdom threatened by the onslaught of Islam, and a perfidious love-interest rival. So, while the rain belted down outside, the searing heat of the desert kingdom was conveyed with an ever-redder skyline from lighting designer James Smith.
Timothy Bagley, Julian Close and Michael Anthony McGee
Amar Muchhala and Seljan Nasibli
Kezia Bienek and Seljan Nasibli
The grand opera of Massenet’s time demanded plenty of scene changes, so the production is necessarily very stop-start which jars for contemporary audiences more used to more through-performed wprks. The scene changes from designer Rufus Martin seem to involve largely moving around a few of the pavilion structures that form the set. We can be in a palace, a desert, outside the palace, in paradise, and the backdrop can be more or less fiery red, and the pavilions have shifted location a little. They are rather pretty though. As with the set, we have sumptuous variations on Punjabi costumes that revel rather than shy away from the orientalism of Massenet’s work.
Dorset Opera has a fabulous chorus. With such a large chorus on the Coade Theatre stage of the well-endowed Bryanston School, Blandford Forum, I lost count at 45 people, there is not an awful lot you can do with them en masse apart from place them from one side of the stage to the other in a variety of choreographic moves. What they contribute is the gorgeous singing that lifts this into a very worthwhile operatic and theatrical event.
That is also, of course, thanks to the principals led by the strong and secure flowing tenor of Amar Muchhala as Alim, the King of Lahore, who is almost literally stabbed in the back by his own minister, Scindia, sung here a boo hoo his pantomime villain by baritone, Michael Anthony McGee. The long suffering priestess Sitâ, is sung with more poise than passion by the appealing soprano Seljan Nasibli, with a resonant Timothy Bagley a strong Timour. There was a particularly fine portrayal of the god Indra from bass Julian Close who dominates the entire opera by being a statue of the god on earth, then a living deity in paradise and then Commandatore-like coming to life back on earth to escort the lovers to their eternal bliss. The servant Kaled was beautifully sung by mezzo Kezia Bienek.
The Dorset Opera orchestra under conductor Jeremy Carnall was lively and spirited delving into the luxuriant beauty of Massenet’s score, and worked in harmony with the principals and that impressive chorus.
It is another achievement by this company, founded in 1974, that has established itself as a Massenet revivalist trailblazer building on Hérodiade in 2006 and Le Cid in 2018. Bold repertoire, high calibre musicianship and commitment to the next generation of performers and artists – quite an ambition and quite an achievement.
Until July 29
Images:©Julian Guidera 2023