Views on opera divide into polar opposites. Some consider it the highest musical art form, others that an opera is four good tunes set in two-and-a-half hours of tedium. If you take the latter view, Bury Choral Society’s “A Night at the Opera” at The Met, Bury on 15 February was for you. It pick’n’mixed the best tunes from fourteen operas, and was very entertaining.
Such an evening is made or ruined by the quality of the soloists involved, and the evening was in safe hands – or safe larynxes. Soprano Sarah Helsby-Hughes and baritone Thomas Eaglen delivered with great accomplishment. He has a rich timbre and a relaxed style, and covered the range, from stern as Samson from Handel’s opera of the same name to heroic in the famous toreador’s aria from Carmen.
Ms Helsby-Hughes clearly has the spirit of operatic performance running through her veins, enacting her contributions with great charm and glamorous coquetry. She even flirted with musical director Barry Sugden, to his embarrassment and the audience’s delight. More to the point, they both can sing superbly and engage with an audience, and they both did.
For the most part the chorus rose to the occasion. The complexities of the Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana seemed a bit hesitant at times, but they were carried through on the soaring melody. However, the ladies achieved a delicious legato in the Chorus of the Peasant Girls from Eugene Onegin, there was all-round soundness in the ever- popular Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s Nabucco, and the opening item, the triumphal entry from Aida, gave a sound start to the evening.
A quartet drawn from the chorus is to be commended for a faultless performance of “Great adventure….” from Yeomen of the Guard.
The only real disappointment would be with the venue. Is The Met really suited to large- scale choral performances? Even within the audience one got a sense of the inertia of the acoustics; it was as though the chorus were singing into a cushion. And poor Jonathan Ellis, the Society’s excellent accompanist, had to make do with a plinky-plonk digital piano which matched neither his talents nor the occasion.