Pacific Opera Victoria and Belfry Theatre
Let's Make an Opera & The Little Sweep  Music by Benjamin Britten.  Libretto by Eric Crozier

Dates and Venue 2, 8 & 9 March 2013, 7.30pm; 3 & 10 March 2013, 1.30pm  | Belfry Theatre, 1291 Gladstone, Victoria

Rebecca Charlotte Corwin | Miss Baggott Rebecca Hass | Clem/Alfred Michael Colvin | Foul Frank/Tom Giles Tomkins | Juliet Mary-Ellen Rayner

Conductor Giuseppe Pietraroia Director Rachel Peake Set and costume design Patrick Clark Lighting design Mark Eugster Stage Manager Peter Jotkus

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Community theatre combined with opera is an unusual notion but Benjamin Britten and Eric Crozier successfully pulled it off with their lively Let’s Make an Opera / The Little Sweep: an Entertainment for Children. And entertaining it is in the current joint production by the Belfry Theatre and Pacific Opera Victoria.

There are good parts for everyone, professional adult singers, young people from teenagers to the under 10’s, even the audience who are the chorus and an integral part of the performance. All the performers in the opera act as themselves in the opening play, a challenge which was bravely faced by the entire cast. The audience too had to tackle Britten’s rhythms (5/4 time in the very first bar!) and dissonances. In this they were most ably and delightfully instructed by the conductor Giuseppe Pietraroia .

The play is a framework for the opera. A group of children and adults listen to a story about a chimney sweep, a little boy, who was rescued from his plight by the teller’s own great-great-grandmother. They decide to make an opera about it and the rest of the play is about how they go about it, the composition of words and music, the set, the props, auditions – in which Michael Colvin unexpectedly sings a drop-dead gorgeous folk-song – coaching and rehearsals which display tantalizing glimpses of the music to come.

Rachel Peake, director, has chosen to use the real names of the performers for the play, while keeping something of original setting and time period, Giles Tompkins as the Composer, looking rather like Britten himself. Apparently unfazed by this extra layer of illusion, all the young demonstrated considerable acting skill whether in the play or singing in the opera. Molly Lydon’s true and rounded voice created a charmingly gentle Sophie Brook and Riccardo Fabris (Johnny Crome) sang with thought and sensitivity. Jacob Holloway (Geoff) and Tori Farkas (Tina) both had a lively stage presence along with Christian Turpin (Hugh) and Jared Reis (Sam, the little Sweep).

Giles Tomkins as the Sweep Master, Foul Frank, and Rebecca Hass as Miss Baggott the housekeeper, could both have afforded to be considerably more unkind and frightening than they were. Sam’s plight lacked sufficient pathos and his near-discovery lacked tension because of this.  A minor flaw was the unsuccessful and unnecessary attempt at English accents.  Diction however was uniformly excellent.  Every word could be heard.

In other respects, director Rachel Peake kept the action moving along nicely. Patrick Clark’s sets were straightforward and unfussy and well-lit by Mark Eugster. The tiny on-stage orchestra was a delight, full of verve and energy.

It was an evening for families and friends, for kind actions overcoming cruelty, for challenges overcome and sociability enhanced, an evening for singing on the way home, an evening such as Britten might have imagined

.© 2013 Elizabeth Paterson