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Judith Weir – A Night at the Chinese Opera

Royal Academy Opera 22 and 24 March 2006
Conductor – Dominic Wheeler
Director – Jo Davies
Designer – Yannis Thavoris
Lighting – Chris Davey
Choreogrpaher – Kay Shepherd

Nightwatchman/Marco Polo – Thorbjom Gulbrandsoy / Viktor Rud
Military Governor – Christopher Field
Mongolian Soldier – Piotr Lempa / Ronald Nairne
Chao Sun/Fireman – George von Bergen / Joey Masemola
Little Moon – Michelle Minke / Caryl Hughes
Chao Lin - Adam Miller / Ronan Collett
Mrs Chin/Old Crone – Jurgita Adamonyte/Anna Graca
Old Peng/Mountain Dweller – Michael McBride
Soprano Actress – Amanda Forbes/Kishani Jayasinghe
Mezzo Actress – Louise Deans / Catherine Hopper
Tenor Actor – Nicholas Mulroy / Allan Clayton

Judith Weir’s A Night at the Chinese Opera might well not be the first work to spring to mind for a college production, but its choice was certainly an enterprising one, challenging both participants and audience.

For those who don’t know the piece, it is a classic play-within-a-play, inserting a performance of the traditional Mongol dynasty opera The Chao Family Orphan into a drama of modern china with an overlapping story line.

Matters are further complicated by a time shift in the outer drama, mingling images and costumes from the 14th and 20th century. To keep everything on track clear direction was needed, and provided by Jo Davies, and Yannis Thavoris’ designs were also spot on. The opening sequence really does set the scene, as the old fashioned night watchman fixedly addresses his words and attention towards the audience whilst a procession of lights weave their way forward on the backdrop – and then he turns around at the very moment that the lights translate into a convoy of remote controlled tanks progressing inexorably across the front of the stage.

The traditions of Chinese theatre rely heavily on mime, both formalised and comic, and demand considerable athleticism from the performers. Weir’s score is approachable, subtly evoking the cadences of Mandarin whilst the orchestra has a real oriental timbre.

That RAM was able to virtually double cast is a good measure of the depth of talent within its opera course students, and there were many excellent individual performances. Notable amongst them were Amanda Forbes (Soprano Actress) with quite superb mime, Viktor Rud (Nightwatchman/Marco Polo) excellent in both roles, Joey Massimola (Chao Sun - pictured) & Michelle Minke (Little Moon) who together gave a splendid portrayal of ancient china, Ronald Nairne (Mongolian Soldier - pictured) a very distinctive bass voice developing well, and counter-tenor Christopher Field (Military Governor) who sang on all four evenings.

Altogether a class act – and a fine evening’s entertainment. Getting the words across was the one weak point. Louise Deans (Mezzo Actress), who adopted flat, northern vowels for both clarity and humour, was the notable exception.

© Serena Fenwick
















Royal Opera, ENO and OHP have all had to come to terms with the clear preference for surtitles of today's audiences, even for opera in English, and their lack at RAM was a real problem.

A revised chamber opera version of Judith Weir's second opera, Blond Eckbert, is to be premiered at Royal Opera, Linbury Studio 14 June 2006 (Editor)

Listen to excerpts of the NMC recording of A night at the Chinese Opera
[NMC D060]

Photos Ronald Nairne & Joey Masemola: Jonathan Dockar-Drysdale