|West Green House - photo Michelle Chapman|
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on July 30 2016
Gounod's charming opera comique in a simple but effective production in the gardens of West Green House
The 2016 opera season at West Green House encompasses productions of Verdi's La Traviata and Mozart's Cosi fan tutte along with Gounod's La Colombe. We caught an afternoon performance of La Colombe on Saturday 30 July 2016, which enabled us to wander round the lovely gardens before and after the opera. The production was co-production between West Green House Opera and Opera Danube. Directed by Simon Butteriss, the opera featured Katie Coventry as Mazet, Simon Butteriss as Maitre Jean, Adam Temple-Smith as Horace and Emily Vine as Countess Sylvie. Alistair Digges conducted members of the Orpheus Sinfonia.
The opera was performed in the lake-side pavilion which meant that the pastoral setting of the work was echoed in the views of the lake through the windows to the rear of the stage. The simple but effective setting was just a garden seat and a few props, whilst the 10 members of the Orpheus Sinfonia (single strings and woodwind) were placed stage right. The pavilion's acoustics were a little dry, but the delightful situation more than compensated and the relative compactness of the venue ensured that the audience was close enough to have a strong connection to the cast.
This was made the most of by the performers, using Simon Butteriss's lively translation. The original libretto, by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre, is perhaps more amusing than funny. But Butteriss's discreet updating brought in a vein of charming comedy, and it helped that all four performers were highly communicative. We were close enough to see facial expressions clearly, and much was made of this to delightful effect.
Costumes were loosely 16th century, though the programme note described the setting as 'the countryside near Florence during an anachronistic 16th century'. Butteriss had made some slight adjustments to the plot, which helped minimise the vein of misogyny in the work and resolve the loose ends. This was particularly true of the character of Mazet (Katie Coventry) where the characters's doubts about Mazet's gender were revealed at the end when the dove was transformed into a female Mazet who proceeded to go off in a threesome with the Countess (Emily Vine) and Horace (Adam Temple-Smith).
The plot is very much a one-joke thing; Horace's need to provide a meal for the Countess (his former lover) means that he has his dove (La Colombe of the title) cooked, though in fact the Countess has come to visit because she desires the dove above all things. Simon Butteriss's programme note brought out some rather interesting spiritual overtones in the work, which made you see the slight plot in new light.