sat 19/10/2019

Road Rage, Garsington Opera | reviews, news & interviews

Road Rage, Garsington Opera

Road Rage, Garsington Opera

Energy and electricity in Richard Stilgoe's and Orlando Gough's community opera

'Road Rage': a 'demo' operaJohn Snelling

Garsington Opera, now based at John Paul Getty’s countrified home, the Wormsley Estate near Henley, has nipped a leaf out of Glyndebourne’s book and embarked on its first full-blooded Community Opera: a far cry from Vivaldi and Rossini, but not from Janáček (Garsington will stage The Cunning Little Vixen next season). Road Rage has a shiveringly well-turned, witty, singable text by Sir Richard Stilgoe, and a score by Orlando Gough, who was behind Glyndebourne’s big hit Imago.

Featuring a "green" script that suggests Rome drove its famous viae stratae through helpless peasant smallholdings (cue centurions, slaves, surveyors), it then unfolds an amusing modern parallel as a crazed Government Minister (tenor Daniel Norman in his most bizarre mode: blogging, tweeting and cosying-up to Paxman) attempts to push a motorway through a sleepy Chiltern backwater.

There were foxes and squirrels and a dendrologist’s delight

By stages, Road Rage evolves into a "demo" opera, protesters of every kind unleashing the show’s upward fizzing energy. Gough’s music, given a lift by members of Simon Over’s Southbank Sinfonia, is akin to the genres he explored at Glyndebourne, but perhaps more relaxed, and at times positively rural and ultimately hymnic. Gough shines best with catchy syncopation, and when Norman’s verbose, incompetent, Jim Hacker-style Minister is briefed by his sinister, smart-ass acolytes, Road Rage acquires a modern musical punch one could almost dub Mozartian.

The fact these sly, know-all advisors are teenagers, and musically very competent ones – these suave youngsters were easily the show’s best singers and characters - renders them as bolshie as the protestors they are confronting. There are three more "professional" roles: a girl crowd-raiser (Clare Presland, aptly tub-thumping and vocally zappy), a rather under-characterised Surveyor (Alexander Byron Hargreaves) and quite a high decibel, robust Activist (Peter Willcock). Some of the best adult soli came from the amateur chorus: several baritones furnished a very presentable vocal match for the full-timers.

The storyline or staging occasionally drooped, but it was the children who scored. Two primaries and an infant school yielded the real greenery of this marginally pageant-like sequence. Dormice and Rabbits offered appetising prey for three spectacularly agile, airborne-harnessed Red Kites - an historic feature of the Wormsley Estate - whose inquisitiveness turns them (Sophie Haxworth, Oliver Winter and the endlessly astute, eye-catching 12-year-old Juliette Dudley), into a kind of deus ex machina of the piece (not fully worked through as an idea, but all three performers were magnificent).

There were foxes - a foretaste of Vixen? – and squirrels, and more importantly, a dendrologist’s delight: appositely-costumed oak, apple and blossom trees, all of which grace the Wormsley hinterland. When they opened up, even when Stilgoe’s text waxes corny, the huge Garsington stage fired up. So when the long-awaited infants slithered out to announce the discovery of rare newts rendered the impossible Norman’s road project null and void, show and audience collapsed with laughter.

Director Karen Gillingham marshalled this scintillating show. Without her precision, it might have been a shambles. Instead, we got an opera. And a lot of electricity with it.

The storyline or staging occasionally drooped, but it was the children who scored

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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