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Rorem: Our Town

Thornton Wilder/J D McClatchy

Stuart Laing stage manager
Sky Ingram Emily Webb
Alexandros Tsilogiannis Ashley Riches
Conductor: Clive Timms
Director: Stephen Medcalf Set Designs & Lighting: Simon Corder Costumes: Susannah Henry: Andrew Dawson Movement

Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London 31 May & 1 June 2012

An engrossing European premiere of a problematic newish opera by the veteran Ned Rorem (b. 1923), staged cleverly in the School's Silk Street Theatre with the audience on three sides of the bare stage; props and scenery were replaced by miming.

Stuart Laing as "stage manager", conspicuous throughout as the master of ceremonies, sang untiringly and directed the proceedings with his iPad, but what it threw up onto four large screens around us wasn't much help. He was supported by a versatile stage crew [bottom R] which was also part of the action.

Trying to follow the words took up too much attention, particularly so I guess from seats behind the louder parts of the orchestra; the conductor commanded attention from video screens all over the theatre ! Regrettably there were no surtitles because it was an "Opera in English" - an out of date policy, presumably maintained to emphasis diction in training?

There is one great part, Emily Webb with Sky Ingram [L] tall (towering over her small base-ball obsessed husband to be) and, though battling with a throat infection, giving a fine performance alive and dead (no double casting for this production).

There is a comprehensive full review by Classical Source which conveys my feelings exactly - " In a stage-work in which the words are vital, their inaudibility made you yearn for subtitles instead of the arch, cute bits of information flashed up on four big screens round the theatre ".

I struggled rather to follow this show, but readers may be interested to know that afterwards, by courtesy of Boosey & Hawkes, I was able to download and study the full orchestral score easily - a great e/resource. Would I'd known and done that first; in the "good old days" publishers of contemporary composers often provided scores to assist reviewers; rare now.

I'd hope to try to see this intriguing opera again if there is a return ticket; Our Town is sold out for the rest of its short London run.

Let's hope there will be a DVD of this interesting opera of which there is not even a CD from America...

Meanwhile, to get a feeling of Wilder's unique conception, see a Texas video on You-Tube.

Peter Grahame Woolf

P.S. Seeing Rorem's Our Town again closer to the action, from seats at the side of the stage, improved on the first experience.


The second act, culminating in a fraught wedding, is brilliant

[R, wooing from windows, photo Clive Barda]


But I fear that the opera has an enduring problem with the gloomy last act, in which many of the cast are dead. Its climax is dead Emily's disappointing attempt to rejoin her family at one of her childhood birthdays - if you get my meaning... She discovers that they were preoccupied with each other, not taking much notice of her.


McClatchy/Rorem's fidelity to Wilder was admirable, but scotched it as entertainment, and Our Town never becomes a real operatic tragedy despite a grand soprano scena for the dead Emily/Sky.


But that is the main musical climax of the opera, with Sky Ingram (recovered from her throat trouble) in fine voice./ But no soprano can get complicated words across in the high register, which brings us back again to the need for subtitles. Since by then the "arch, cute bits of information" [Classical Source] on the screens had petered out, leaving those screens with just a depressing grey seascape and a stony beach [below. L] to look at, it would have been a brave stroke to have introduced surtitles (even for only that last act) with a questionnaire at the exit to test audience reactions to this perennial topic?


Official press photos to be added after the Jubillee weekend; meanwhile here are a few images from the end of this show, which deserves not to fall into limbo again.

Images (PGW)

The Dead


Sky & Stuart [L]
Orchestra, Clive Timms & Stuart [R]


Technical crew