Monday, 2 July 2012

Eleanor Vale - Somerset mystery opera

"Like the wind through the sedge on the edge of the rhyne, like a cloudburst she came sweeping down off the moor".

It is 1900. A mysterious woman sails into a sleepy Somerset hamlet, confidently astride a man's bicycle. She's intelligent, vivacious and unconventional and intrigues the village community. Who is she, and why has she come?  Eleanor Vale is a new opera, specially commissioned for Wedmore Opera, which has been bringing opera to Somerset for nearly 25 years. I'm making the trip to see it because the composer is John Barber, who studied with Harrison Birtwistle and David Sawer (BCMG Rumpelstiltskin)  His opera We are shadows featured in the Spitalfields Music Festival in 2011. He's created works for Glyndebourne and ROH Education. The Wigmore Hall has commisioned a chamber piece with Sophie Daneman later this year.

Barber's Eleanor Vale is interesting because it's set in the area where it's being performed. Peter Cann's libretto reads well. Rustic rhythms that could translate well into music. "Ale is fine but cider is best. Blackmore girls don't need to be pressed". Images of the countryside - flowers, hedgerows, cider. But don't be lulled. There's rot at the heart of some of these apples. Eleanor Vale is a Modern Woman with a mission.

Another good reason for seeing this opera is Sarah Minns. She's a regular at Opera Holland Park (Fantastic Mr Fox and La Rondine)  and Grange Park Opera and a graduate of the RAM. Eleanor Vale was created for her. She has  a fresh, lively voice and the strength of personality to make a role like this work. She was born locally, but has gone on to make a career in London. Sarah Minns will be joined by Marie Vassiliou, Adam Green and Nicholas Sharratt who guests at Opera North and ETO. Director is Marylin Johnstone. Carolyn Doorbar conducts.

At Wedmore Opera "We believe that excellent opera can be an amazing experience for anyone, of any age, wherever they live and however they spend their days...... The arts change lives"  Even children are involved, making corn dollies to be used as props in the production.  Learning crafts is fun in itself, but in the process, they are also learning that opera is a living art form. What could lift Eleanor Vale out of the ordinary is that it blends local enthusiam with professional standards. Performances take place in a 600 seat marquee in the country village of Wedmore, but access from London is easy, as it's not far from Bristol. Three performances from 11th July. Read more here. "Excellent opera in a village setting".

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