Peterborough Opera and City of Peterborough Symphony Orchestra showcasing a common heritage

Steve Bingham
Steve Bingham

Toreadors strutted, ancient Egyptians chanted, lovers sighed, and even the Mastersingers of Nuremberg put in a dignified appearance ! The occasion was a shared Opera Gala concert at the Voyager Academy presented by Peterborough Opera and the City of Peterborough Symphony Orchestra.

And what a good idea this joint venture was. At a time when globalisation seems to be squeezing out traditional culture, including classical music, it makes plenty of sense for practitioners to get together to showcase their common heritage.

The accessible and colourful programme started with a stately performance of Wagner’s Mastersingers Overture played by the CPSO under its conductor Steve Bingham. It was quickly followed by the chorus ‘Awake! The day is dawning’ from the same work which introduced members of Peterborough Opera. The last of the Wagner set was the famous Prize Song, performed simply and effectively by the tenor Mark Ellse.

On a slightly more critical note however it’s worth pointing out that the audience had to wait nearly 15 minutes for this stirring music to begin.

Votes of thanks, announcements, and spoken introductions are all very well in their place. But, the hard-working CPSO team do need to remember that a concert is primarily about listening to music, from the word go if possible.

Following the Wagner set the programme moved on to Georges Bizet, composer of Carmen, one of the most famous of all operas.

In the eponymous role mezzo soprano Liz Williams made an impressive impact with her seductive stage presence and a voice with a texture like mellow burgundy. For the slinky Seguidilla and Habanera she was joined by baritone Martin Muir as Escamillo.

After the interval came the musical highlight of the programme, a performance of three extracts from Mozart’s most sensuously lovely and lyrical opera Cosi fan Tutte.

Here, Liz Williams as Dorabella and Martin Muir as Don Alfonso were joined by Marian Porter. Her soprano voice seemed a little strained in the gorgeous trio ‘Gentle be the wind.’ Later however in Verdi’s rousing ‘Let’s drink’ from La Traviata, partnered by Mark Ellse and the Peterborough Opera chorus, she was much more at home and at ease.

Meanwhile the CPSO was at its best in the brilliant Overture to Cosi even though it makes huge demands on woodwind and strings.

The highly successful concert ended with prolonged applause and bouquets for soloists, compere, and conductor. But, had they been able to overhear it perhaps even more pleasing to the performers were the words of an elderly member of the audience. ‘I didn’t want it to stop!’ he said.

REVIEW: Joe Conway