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Rare Operas - Gluck & Vaughan Williams

Vaughan Williams – The Poisoned Kiss 

New Sussex Opera / Kent Sinfonia


Tormentilla – Anna Dennis

Amaryllus – Nicholas Sharratt

Angelica – Louise Innes

Gallanthus – James McOran Campbell

Dipsacus – Ian Caddy

Empress Persicaria – Margaret Preece

Three Mediums – Birgit Rohowska, Sarah Corp, Hilary Jane Andrews

Three Hobgoblins – Fan Chang Kong, Andrew Holden, James Fisher


Nicholas Jenkins - Conductor

Michael Moxham – Director

Yann Seabra – Designer

The Winter Garden, Eastbourne 9 November 2008


Two neglected operas in as many days is a rare treat, and the delights of The Poisoned Kiss fully justified the journey involved. 


The unashamedly romantic fairy story, with every character in the opera ending up paired off to live in happy-ever-after wedded bliss is played to the accompaniment of some of Vaughan Williams most enjoyable and seductive tunes.


The duet Blue larkspur in a garden is justly well known and fully lives up to the promise of its own words to “bring continual delight”.   There are also numerous examples of Vaughan Williams mastery as a writer of choral music and New Sussex Opera’s strong chorus of more than thirty voices took full advantage.


Altogether this was a lively performance.  Michael Moxham’s direction was intelligently suited to the limitations of what was essentially a concert platform, with his cast entering happily into the spirit of enchantment.  


Nicholas Jenkins conducted with authority and though from the front stalls the balance between singers and the large orchestra was not always ideal, with a few words getting lost on the way, the thread of the action was always maintained.  The principals were all exemplary and the afternoon passed by all too quickly.

Gluck – La rencontre imprevue

Guildhall School of Music and Drama


Osmin – Nicky Spence

Calender – Njabulo Madlala / Jonathan Sells

Vertigo – Andrew Finden / Derek Welton

Ali – Carlos Nogueira

Balkis – Rowan Hellier / Emily Steventon

Dardane – Sara Gonzalez Saavedra

Amine – Rebecca van den Berg

Rezia – Anna Devin / Rhona McKail

Chef de caravane – Matthew Sprange


Nicholas Kok - Conductor

Stephen Medcalf – Director

Nicky Shaw – Designer

Sarah Fahie – Choreographer

Sultan – Daniel Joy

 GSMD, 6 & 8 November 2008

It seems doubtful that anyone would hail La recontre imprévuel, the last of Gluck’s eight comic operas, as a great undiscovered masterpiece but it does have sufficient merit to warrant an occasional airing and, in the hands of an inventive director such as Stephen Medcalf, it can certainly provide a good evening’s entertainment.


The story line is a familiar one, falling somewhere between Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail and Kismet, with a heroine, Rezia, waiting to be rescued from a Sultan’s harem.   In this instance the hero, Ali, believes she is dead and has to pass a number of tests of his continued fidelity before he learns the truth. 


During the overture the orchestra sounded rather tentative and even a little awkward, but attention was immediately focussed on the stage with a line-up of whirling dervishes.


The acting and comic timing of the whole cast was exemplary.  On the two evenings that I saw the show the “prop gremlins” were active, but these incidents were covered with professional aplomb.   French pronunciation was also excellent, with the significant chunks of spoken dialogue delivered with secure precision. 


Not all the singing came up to the very high standards usually achieved by students on the GSMD opera course.   I particularly enjoyed the honey toned soprano of Anna Devin as the heroine Rezia, and the two bass baritones Njabulo Madlada and Jonathan Sells who shared the role of the double-dealing Calender, giving entirely convincing but totally contrasting interpretations of the character. 


The servant Osmin was a part that seemed perfectly tailored to the confident Nicky Spence.  The  mad marriage-phobic artist Vertigo is a character of which I can think of no counterpart in opera. A great deal of stage business, including contemporary abstract painting, accompanied his arias – very smoothly accomplished by both Andrew Finden and Derek Welton.


Finally, mention must be made of the dancers from the Central School of Ballet whose comic sequence preceding the interval was one of the highlights of the evening.


Serena Fenwick



Recordings: It seems unlikely that either of these pieces will find regular slots in the repertoire. Interested readers may follow them up through recordings.  The Poisoned Kiss is available on a highly recommendable issue from Chandos - CHAN 10120(2) – and La rencontre imprevue can be found on the Orfeo label - C242 912H.  Both sets include full text in English, French and German.