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Trinity Laban Opera presents Thea Musgrave’s A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol - Ebenezer Scrooge Giuseppe Pellingra and Belle Fezziwig Arianna Rebecca Firth.
A Christmas Carol – Ebenezer Scrooge Giuseppe Pellingra and Belle Fezziwig Arianna Rebecca Firth.

It’s an interesting concept: an opera adapted from a well-known Charles Dickens story, A Christmas Carol. And why not? I went into this Trinity Laban Opera production slightly sceptical as to how convincing this would be, but it does work, partly because of the scale of the production – there are forty-four named characters, even if some of them are ‘Laundress’, ‘Man with Snuff-box’ and ‘Paper Boy’. Then there are the deep emotions that are so well-expressed by a good operatic belt. For Ebenezer Scrooge (Giuseppe Pellingra), who takes on a ghostly appearance to begin with as well as a dour demeanour, the force that accompanies an operatic “Bah humbug!” has its equal in the final scenes when he wishes others “a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”, with the same sheer volume, unamplified over a fifteen-strong chamber orchestra under the baton of John Pryce-Jones, but with very different emotions conveyed.

Although the narrative was familiar with many in the audience, it was, for those like me who hadn’t encountered this opera by Thea Musgrave CBE before, an opportunity to consider the narrative afresh. There were, as could be reasonably expected, some minor modifications from the Dickens novella, but it is largely a very faithful opera, and one which, perhaps inevitably, doesn’t fit into either of the broad categories, being neither ‘tragic’ – Tiny Tim Cratchit (a rather un-tiny William Beckingham-Hughes), lives after all, and Jacob Marley (Lars Fischer) had already died by the Christmas Eve and Day in which the show is set – nor ‘comedy’. It is, of course, a relief to say the least that Scrooge not only embraces the spirit of Christmas but seeks to mend broken familial ties. But sweetness does not equal hilarity.

There are scenes when the narrative moves painfully slowly – it’s an opera, after all, but still one that started at 7.30pm and ended before 10.00pm. But the period costumes are very good, as are the backdrop projections. Heightened emotions again come to the fore when Scrooge relives his previous experiences courtesy of the Spirit of Christmas Past (Eleanor Strutt). When Belle Fezziwig (Arianna Rebecca Firth, whose singing stood out for me amongst a talented cast), engaged to Ben (Theo Parry), as ‘Ebenezer’ was known as a young man, walks out on him (for what these days would be called ‘irreconcilable differences’), the older Scrooge is distressed in a dramatic close to the first act.

Particularly striking in this version of A Christmas Carol is the operatic lament when it is the turn of the Spirit of Christmas Future (Melissa Davies). The fate of Tiny Tim, as things stood at that moment, was rather grim, and while other versions, including Dickens’ novella, may mostly elicit anger at the injustice that befalls an innocent boy, there seemed to be an emphasis on compassion here, even before Scrooge performs, to borrow a political phrase, a U-turn.

And then this: imagine being Bob Cratchit (Sandeep Gurrapadi), and having Scrooge knock on your front door on Christmas morning, and operatically bellow, “I’m going to raise your salary!” and “You deserve to be rewarded!” The opera form, more than the play or musical form, demonstrates so well how stunned Cratchit would have been. A curious and captivating production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A Christmas Carol is part of Trinity Laban’s Venus Blazing season, an unprecedented commitment to celebrating the music of female composers. At least 50% of works performed across our 2018/19 season are by female composers.

The production is directed by Trinity Laban’s Head of Vocal Studies Jennifer Hamilton. Musical direction comes from veteran MD John Pryce-Jones. Set, lighting and costume design is by Ian Sommerville.

MMus bass/baritone student Giuseppe Pellingra performs the role of Scrooge. Bob Cratchit performed by tenor Sandeep Gurrapadi, with Rachel Maby as Mrs Cratchit and Arianne Firth as Belle.

CAST
Carollers Katy Allen, Charlotte Bröker, Isobel Hughes, Isabelle
Morgan, Antonia Richards, Eleanor Strutt, Bethan Terry
Belinda Cratchit Sofia Celenza / Nicola Jane Roberts (cover)
Aunt Louise Rachel Colley / Rhian Davies (cover)
Portly Gentleman, Mr Fezziwig Michael Collins / Konrad Jaromin (cover)
Fan Vaiva Datenyté / Anna Marmion (cover)
Starving Woman Melissa Davies / Antonia Richards (cover)
Charwoman Rhian Davies / Rachel Colley (cover)
Marley’s Ghost, Marley Lars Fischer / Niall Windass (cover)
Belle Fezziwig Arianna Rebecca Firth / Charlotte Bröker (cover)
Bob Cratchit Sandeep Gurrapadi / Alexander White (cover)
Fat Man Konrad Jaromin / Niall Windass (cover)
Topper Konrad Jaromin / Pablo Boira-Boulding (cover)
Martha Cratchit Megan Linnell / Melissa Davies (cover)
Mr Dorrit Robert Lydon
Mrs Cratchit Rachel Maby / Isobel Hughes (cover)
Lucy (Rosie’s younger sister) Anna Marmion / Bethan Terry (cover)
Spirit of Christmas Present, Liza Fezziwig Isabelle Morgan
Ebenezer Scrooge Giuseppe Pellingra / Samuel Mitchell (cover)
Man with Red Face Yanou Pauwels / Pablo Boira-Boulding (cover)
Fred (Scrooge’s nephew), Ben (Scrooge as a young man) Theo Perry / Yanou Pauwels (cover)
Mollie Fezziwig Nicola Jane Roberts
Vickie (Rosie’s youngest sister) Eleanor Rosser-Smyth
Rosie (Fred’s wife) Liberty Spears / Gemma Wahl (cover)
Spirit of Christmas Past, Mrs Fezziwig Eleanor Strutt
Spirit of Christmas Future Melissa Davies / Antonia Richards (cover)
Laundress Gemma Wahl / Katy Allan (cover)
Dick Wilkins (Fezziwig’s apprentice) Alexander White
Man with Snuff-box Alexander White / Robert Lydon (cover)
Factory Girl Charlotte Bröker
Scrooge as a Young Boy Katy Allan
Great Aunt Ermintrude Rhian Davies
Joe, the Rag and Bone Man, Mr Gabriel Grub Niall Windass
Factory Boy Pablo Boira-Boulding
Bertie (Rosie’s younger brother) Rose Clarke-Williams
Harriet Cratchit Blaize O’Callaghan
Peter Cratchit Oliver Kotla
Tiny Tim Cratchit William Beckingham-Hughes
Paper Boy Tom Hornby / Antonia Richards (cover)
Children under the Cloak Beth Clarke-Williams & Max Glaser-Batdorff
Children’s Chorus William Beckingham-Hughes, Beth Clarke-Williams, Rose Clarke-Williams, Aryo Iwan Daryono, Maia Glaser-Batdorff, Max Glaser-Batdorff, Tom Hornby, Oliver Kotla, Lottie Moulton, Blaize O’Callaghan, Kate Rowsell-Ryan Jude Smith

Laban Theatre, Laban Building
Creekside
London, SE8 3DZ

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