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La Boheme at His Majesty's at Hilton

Sean Wallace

Despite sparse, simple sets and a stripped-down, 10-man orchestra, the Hand Made Opera Company lost none of the passion of Puccini's classic.

Updated to a vibrant Paris of the late 1960s Puccini's popular tragic-comedy was superbly played by a young cast and ably conducted by Gulliver Ralston. Focusing on the doomed relationships between writer Rodolfo and young seamstress Mimi, the finale was truly moving.

Tom Raskin's Rodolfo excelled in both the comic and tragic moments of the four-act opera. But it was Jane Streeton, as Mimi, who stole the show in the finale as she returned to her estranged lover, racked with TB and on the verge of death.



Hand Made Opera and Orchestra

Howden Minster
Paul D Harrison

With its comparatively modest requirements, The Barber of Seville, a knockabout comedy if ever there was one, works well with the kind of restrictions imposed here; namely and orchestra of only 10 players and, this being a church, a distinct lack of space (this is not to sugest that it shouldn't be given the full works either).

The action was well stage managed so that things moved swiftly and even scene changes were almost imperceptibly integrated into the fabric of performance. The comic element also received its due with even shades of flapper-style frolics colouring their sparkling take of the finale to Act One, as a result of the fact that the story had been reset in the 1920s.

Colin Baldy (also producing) made a splendidly fusty Dr Bartolo and a perfect foil for confident man-about-town Figaro (Mark Oldfield) while Jane Streeton quivered and sighed as the lovesick Rosina. Tom Raskin had what was needed for the plaintive tenor arias that Rossini gives Almaviva. One of the highlights of this production was Adrian Hutton's scheming Don Basilio, even frightening his partner in crime Bartolo. The instrumental support was super here in the so-called "calumny" aria with the strings imparting a delicious anticipatory frisson to the music under the baton of Nicholas Chalmers.

Kathy Taylor Jones and Maciek O'Shea provided reliable support in the minor roles. Even the Minster's present incumbent Ian Ellery turned up at the end to lawfully join the happy pair. This final event of the Howden Festival has crowned a week of unusual interest.



Hande Made Orchestra and Consort

Howden Minster
Paul D Harrison

This curiously named group derives from Hand Made Opera which dates from the year 2000, making its first appearance at the Howden Festival this year after.

Instrumentally speaking they fielded seven players comprising oboe, lute and strings playing modern instruments with some succession towards period performance habits whilst four singers joined in the final item.

Bach's output of more than 300 cantatas is surprisingly varied, given the 209 which have survived. It is easy to see why Ich habe genug BWV 82 (For the Feast of the Purification of Mary) is among the more popular, with its gravely beautiful string orchestration and mellow baritone solos. Colin Baldy was the soloist delivering a tidy performance notable for its good intonation and diction.

He was confidently articulate but just occasionally his quieter passages disappeared beneath the accompaniment.

James Bowman was the pliant alto soloist in Widerstehe doch der Sunde BWV 54 (For the Seventh Sunday after Trinity), his expressive singing finding answer in the orchestra's playing, but even some of his phrase endings seemed to sometimes disappear into the rafters. He blended well with the other singers in the final cantata offering BWV 159.

A mandolin makes a tiny sound in a church, but Taro Takeuchi, forsaking his orchestral flute, easily held his own against the rest of the group in Vivaldi's Mandolin Concerto in C Major. The concert was ably directed by Nicholas Chalmers.