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Driven to Opera by Hugh

November 22, 2010

The appeal of opera has always eluded me, striking me as somewhat pretentious and synonymous with people who drive large, comfortable jaguars.  Rocking up to my first opera (does one rock up to opera?) in my patent cherry red DMs and tartan jacket I looked decidedly out of place.

However, not to be put off by the sideway glances I stomped down the aisle to my seat for the New Sussex Opera’s performance of Hugh the Drover (Love in the Stocks). The theatre wasn’t full, but for a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon it wasn’t a bad turn out.

The lights went down, violin bows were poised, reeds ready to be vibrated, and I was ready to start the applause…and nothing. No applause, just straight into the performance. Is this normal for opera? As an operatic virgin I have no way of knowing. I put my hands back in my lap and focussed on the forlorn-looking maiden on the stage.

I had deliberately not bought a programme; I wanted to see if the story was conveyed easily. Thankfully, the fact it was in English was most helpful in this endeavour. My only complaint was that some of the voices didn’t carry over the orchestra, especially the first couple of soloists in the opening scenes, and at various points throughout the show I found myself more attuned to the musicians than to the singers.

That’s not to say the singers were struggling, I just couldn’t hear them except when they hit big notes. As I’ve mentioned this was my first opera, so it’s hard to review against anything else. Overall the characters were engaging, loved John-the-hairy-biker-look-alike-butcher and by the end of the first half I found myself thoroughly swept up in the plight of Mary and Hugh.

The second half was just as engrossing, culminating in a happy ever after ending, albeit demure, and a very well deserved round of applause with numerous shouts of ‘bravo’ (another first – I’m used to whistles and whoops at the pantomime). As a taster, Hugh the Drover most certainly whetted my appetite and I have to give due credit to all involved in the performance.


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