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Jonathan Dove Tobias and the Angel
Young Vic 11 October 2006

Jonathan Dove, a richly gifted opera composer, who likes writing tunes "that people will enjoy on a first hearing", has made the community opera genre his own, with important contributions to the life of Hackney and, more recently, a cantata based on the history of Spitalfields.

These have been pieces for (mainly) amateur musicians of all ages, which nonetheless embrace considerable sophistication and originality; they are often site-specific in their source material, but the best of them have a wider viability.

One such is Tobias and the Angel revived to celebrate the reopening of the much loved Young Vic Theatre after a prolonged closure for a thorough makeover, by architect Steve Tompkins, of what had been a temporary building.

David Lan gave the last of the speeches in the cram-packed bar, before an eager capacity audience filled the auditorium, with choirs from Lambeth and Soutwark in the top tier. Jonathan Dove’s Tobias and the Angel first appeared in 1999, before resurfacing under the Young Vic’s auspices in John Fulljames’s production two years ago and agin now.

Musical Pointers' readers will want to note that this theatre-in-the-round is an ideal venue for opera, its acoustics unsurpassed in the capital. The music was coordinated with self-effacing control by David Charles Abell and the young and older folk of the local communities sang and danced with professional confidence realising Ben Wright's quite complex choreography under Fulljames’s overall direction.

The story line is a tricky one, enacted here with a lot of climbing up and down ladders and rope-ladders the three-level sets at each end of the central ramp. There is a moment of stage magic (Alexander Lowde) during Tobias's journey from Nineveh to

Ecbatana, in which he is urged to listen to the songs of trees, mountains and a river. All the main parts were well taken, but I would particularise the other-worldly counter tenor of James Lang, stranger and guide, who dances without moving, some of his music (too?) close to Britten's Oberon. The score was greatly accomplished as always with Dove, though in that, and echoes of Smetana's deafness (the high pitched violin from his 1st Quartet) to signify Tobit's blindness, there was a tendency towards cliché.

The highly committed and throughly disciplined children were magnificent as sparrows and finces, and the huge cast as people of Nineveh and Ecbatana, trees, mountains, river and angels. The climax was overwhelming, with the theatre resounding to massed singing, the whole a marvellous choice to reinaugurate the Young Vic.

I am pleased to see that the Youn Vic's reopening season's programme includes another work by Jonathan Dove, a co-production with The Opera Group of his The Enchanted Pig for Christmas (1 December to 27 January).

See links to PGW's reviews of operas and community operas by Jonathan Dove:


Green Swallow

Palace in the Sky     

The Hackney Chronicles

Hear Our Voice   

On London Fields  

On Spital Fields


Peter Grahame Woolf