Those of us fortunate enough to have heard last night’s semi-staged performance of Gounod’s opera Mireille by New Sussex Opera at Lewes Town Hall were treated to some world-class singing by South African soprano Sally Silver. The role of Mireille should have a sign hung on it––Please don’t try this at home! The soprano is rarely off stage and when she’s on, she’s singing. There are few places to rest, and yet Silver sang the 5-act tour de force seemingly without breaking a sweat. No easy feat. Her voice suited the role beautifully and her training and seamless legato line was always in evidence. With a beautiful, resonant middle voice and powerful open-throated top notes she was a joy to hear throughout.
The second star of the show was clearly the orchestra. Nicholas Jenkins conducted with great enthusiasm and precision and the St. Paul’s Sinfonia played with wonderful warm musicality. The wide variety of tonal colours and evocative dance rhythms juxtaposed with the ethereal religious aspects of the music were all splendidly displayed. I would happily become a frequent audience member of their concerts.
As for the rest of the cast, Quentin Hayes‘ Ourrias was beautifully sung and dramatically very committed. Hayes also has a real knowledge of how to sing long legato lines. This is especially fortunate in a role which, given the anger and frustration of the character and the thickness of orchestration, could easily have devolved into barking and shouting. With Hayes it never did.
Sarah Pring’s Taven, the medium, was also well sung. Pring has the necessary vocal weight to sing the role but was still able to retain beauty of voice. She was also dramatically interesting to watch.
The New Sussex Opera Chorus was in fine form, singing sweet and strong with good intonation and clear diction. They were lively onstage and dramatically solid, clearly well-rehearsed and they turned in a fine performance.
Tony Baker and his team should be commended for taking a bunch of tables and chairs and a few spotlights and, on a shoe-string budget, creating the illusion (if one could suspend disbelief) of Provence complete with ocean, boats, church and desert. The staging was also clear and unfussy. Bravo!
I still feel that yet another plea will not go amiss here: despite Town Hall’s lovely acoustics, Lewes is in desperate need of a real concert hall. Town Hall has no proper stage for the singers and no pit for the orchestra. The sheer quantity and quality of this town’s musical outpourings demands a proper space.