Borka is produced by the same team responsible for last year's Laika, the space dog; composer Russell Hepplewhite, writer and director Tim Yealland, designer Jude Munden. Hepplewhite conducted a small band (Philip Turbett, bassoon, John Rogers, viola and Jonathan Raper, percussion) and the opera was performed by four singers (Abigail Kelly, Susan Moore, Matt Ward and Maciek O'Shea) with actor Dafydd Hall Williams.
Jude Munden's imaginative set encompassed lovely patch-work back-drops on rollers to easily change the setting, which were combined with mobile props such as reeds (for the marshes) and a ship. The sets were changed by the cast, with much active participation from stage manager Will Hunter. Craft seemed to be a theme running through Munden's designs, not only the sewn back-drops but Borka has a knitted coat (to replace her feathers), and there was a whole knitting scene inviting participation from the children. Last year's opera Laika, the space dog which was for older children wove science into its plot. This year's piece is ostensibly about how it is OK to be different, the plot involves Borka's journey to acceptance as a goose with no feathers, but craft seems another interesting thread.
|Abigail Kelly and Borka|
Hepplewhite's music certainly does not talk (or sing) down to the children, this opera was no sequence of saccharine tunes. Instead Hepplewhite used short, highly characterful motifs, much imaginative instrumental work and a nice feel for pacing. He conducted with aplomb, keeping the piece flowing and coping well with the various 'vamp till ready' moments which are inevitable in such a highly active production.
It is a daunting task, holding the attention of over 100 six year olds for nearly an hour but Abigal Kelly, Susan Moore, Matt Ward, Maciek O'Shea and Dafydd Hall Williams did so, talking directly to the children without patronising them and holding their attention, thanks to Hepplewhite's characterful vocal writing, when performing. This was a highly active production, much running around and imitating of geese (inevitably) in a delightful fashion. Also, there was a great deal of imaginative puppetry, with the puppets manipulated by the cast so that they really did become characters, not only geese but also the ship's dog. Munden's designs for the puppets were a complete delight including such nice touches as the ship's captain and mate 'sitting' on the ship via pairs of small puppet legs attached to the actors' bodies.
The audience clearly found the piece amusing and attractive, and it certainly combined music and message into a form which introduced them to the irrational art of opera. Borka runs until 30 May, and there are some public performances check English Touring Opera's website for details.
Elsewhere on this blog:
- Technique and musicality: Rupert Charlesworth and Laurence Cummings at the Foundling Hospital
- My dearest Hedgehog: The Tempestuous Marriage of Richard and Pauline Strauss
- Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito
- Chelsea Opera Group: Bellini's I Capuleti e I Montecchi
- The Lonely City: The Platinum Consort, Scott Inglis-Kidger
- 30th birthday: John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers
- Rokoko: Max Emanuel Cencic in arias by Hasse
- Rosenblatt Recitals: Giuseppe Filianoti
- Second view: ETO' Magic Flute
- Theatrical magic: Jonathan Dove's Pinocchio
- CPE Bach Centenary: CPE Bach's Magnificat from RIAS Kammerchor & Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin - CD review