One of the best things about being a pianist is getting to play the role of ‘orchestra’ for smaller-scale productions and performances. As well as enjoying the rich and exciting operas of Mozart, Puccini and others in my regular work as MD and pianist for Opera Anywhere, I’ve had the opportunity to accompany some thrilling close-up opera at the Arcola Theatre in London, where Paula Chitty’s company Irrantional Theatre presented a dramatic double bill of ‘Gianni Schicchi’ and ‘Pagliacci’ as part of the annual Grimeborn opera festival. ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ is the best-known aria in Puccini’s witty tale, in which Gianni Schicchi uses his impersonating skills to take revenge on his snobbish family; and in Leoncavallo’s highly emotional melodrama, based on a real murder case, professional clown Pagliacci lets reality break into performance, with violent and terrible consequences. Two rich and absorbing scores, two original and involving productions, and two nights of excellent and accessible opera.
I also had the pleasure of helping Stuart Pendred’s brand new company Oxford Opera bring opera to a new audience in a concert performance of Puccini’s sinister tale of political intrigue, rape and torture, ‘Tosca’. Oxford Opera’s aim is to introduce a new generation of singers to a genre they may not otherwise encounter, and I had a great time helping out at rehearsals with students at Cherwell School in the lead-up to the final event—which featured superb professional soloists, including international soprano Lee Bisset, as well as a wonderful chorus of singers ranging from 5 to 18 years old. The next project planned is ‘Carmen’—another tale of high drama and fiery passions.