IT WAS a Liverpool weekend of opera extremes. On the one hand, audiences could have seen the vast production of Wagner’s Parsifal from the New York Met, relayed to FACT.
And then, at the altogether more intimate Epstein Theatre, there was Benjamin Britten’s realisation of The Beggar’s Opera. This was another highly fruitful co-production between the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the city-based European Opera Centre.
What has been so dynamic in the past is that the productions – often necessarily pared down and little more than a concert performance – are of works rarely performed and which would struggle to make it onto the mainstream opera platforms of places like London, Paris or New York, let alone cities which are not on the premier run of the operatic ladder.
This performance, part of the celebrations for the centenary of the birth of Britten, saw a whole new working of the libretto. Robert Farquhar was commissioned to provide a new dialogue for spoken parts, though all musical numbers and any dialogue spoken over a musical background were left intact.
This was a witty, fast-paced production, directed by Bernard Rozet. Indeed, the star of the show was probably not even a singer but was the Beggar himself, a speaking role performed by a very lively, very smiley Stephen Colfer. At no point did the dialogue feel strained and there was the occasional amusing aside – such as the reference to picking up the pace in the second half as the conductor had to catch a coach to Leeds.
The chorus parts – the Ladies of the Town and the Gentlemen of the Road – were performed by students from the Royal Northern College of Music and a fine sound they made, overall.
Tenor Alexander Sprague’s interpretation of the villain Captain Macheath was polished, a fine voice which provided clean, audible delivery. Mezzo Rosie Aldridge’s performance of the larger- than-life Mrs Peachum was as comic as it was tragic but her on-stage husband, the bass Louis Hurst, was slightly less convincing.
The two women in pursuit of Macheath – mezzo Michelle Daly, singing Polly and soprano Daire Halpin who sang the incredibly tarty Lucy Lockit – were finely balanced, the two sparking off each other and making a fine on- stage duel. A little disappointing was the rather wooden performance of Lockit, sung by baritone Romanas Kudriasovas.
A small chamber orchestra from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic accompanied the action and conductor Richard Farnes kept up a pacy performance throughout, never once letting the action flag. Rewriting dialogue might have been seen as a risk, but the end result was a triumph.
Glyn Mon Hughes