Review: Ebb and Flow rises to the occasion

By Steve Grimshaw

THERE has been much talk in the media as to whether the much promised Olympic legacy that was supposed to follow last year’s games in London has indeed been delivered, with politicians apparently the most ‘exercised’ about the issue.

Whether or not the country is spending more or less time building up a sweat I don’t know, nor do I really care. However the 2012 Olympic Games seem to have, quite by accident, bestowed on Thurrock a quite special gift.

‘Ebb and Flow, an opera mash-up’ was performed at the Blackshots Lane, Civic Hall on Saturday evening (30th November) to a sold out auditorium, and to an audience that wondered how the Royal Opera House Thurrock Community Chorus would face the test it had set itself: to perform pieces from three operas: Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Mozart’s Idomeneo and Richard Taylor’s Ludd and Isis, and, impossibly, to mould them into a coherent whole.

The first delicate notes of the piano prelude seemed, aisles brimming with unseated guests, a little premature, but was quickly revealed to be the opera’s creative choreographic opening as the ‘guests’ headed stage-ward and broke into the opening lines of ‘Are We There Yet’.

And so from chaos beauty emerged, and this set the style for what was to come, as the Chorus jumped with skill between an intriguing arrangement of pieces and for the first time provided their own soloists, a fact that we could not have guessed from their simultaneously controlled and passionate performances.

Not just the soloists, but the whole chorus exuded professionalism: taking on the task of ‘acting’ the piece as much as singing it, and with impeccable stage management apparently aimlessly mingling, before, just at the right moment, coalescing for the next scene. It was a joy to watch, reminiscent of the flocks of starlings that traverse Essex at this time of year, and though I caught some of the interwoven storylines I fear I missed many subtle touches that worked to connect the whole.

But this was always going to be the most difficult task of the evening: creating a comprehensible narrative from three disparate operas. Here I would say that Conductor, Jeremy Haneman and Director, David Stevenson succeeded in creating a surreal tale that mixed language and history. At times it was like switching back and forth between different TV channels, and yet it didn’t matter, because what held the whole together, was the music and the voices of the Chorus.

Michalis Angelakis’ piano accompaniment was masterful, the foundation from start to finish and the soloists are without exception to be applauded, all performed wonderfully, but the strength of the Chorus is shown to its fullest when they raise their voices en masse and the ‘Mash-up’ was at its most moving at these moments. My personal favourite was ‘O Voto tremendo’ which resonated through the hall, and to be honest. I felt that the Chorus responded best to the Mozart pieces. The timing required of some of Purcell’s, ‘To the Hills and the Vales’ in particular, seemed to stretch the chorus out of their comfort zone, whilst, pleasingly, Richard Taylor’s Ludd and Isis, probably the most familiar of the three operas to the Chorus, more than held its own in such esteemed company, providing as it did the rousing encore of the evening.

One shrinks from describing the concert as ‘pitch perfect’; perfect is so absolute a word, and yet, if the shoe fits…

And speaking of shoes: while the rest of the country are urged into running shoes, of dubious fit, I feel that in Thurrock we may rest easy, because our Olympic legacy has already arrived, and ours is by far the biggest prize: the Royal Opera House Thurrock Community Chorus. Encore!

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