Cost of living crisis? This country house opera won’t break the bank
This unity of tone accentuates the absurdity of the exchanges between the characters in Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram’s home, Mansfield Park, and the perennial problem in Austen’s fiction of eligible young women who need a decent husband. (“Twelve thousand a year!” “I can’t wait to drive a horse-drawn carriage…”) As a novelist, Austen relies heavily on understatement and irony to convey these ideas, but Dove, for the greater audience enjoyment, is less subtle and much more opera is performed for laughs. There is no difficulty for the audience to keep track of what is happening, even if they are unfamiliar with the novel, as the actors sing each chapter title as the plot unfolds. expands: ‘Chapter 11: A View of a Wedding, Seen from the Shrubs of Mansfield Park.
And there are remarkable talents among the cast. As Lady Bertram, Emily Gray spends much of the opera sitting or staggering in a drugged state while clutching her pug (a remarkably active puppet); but his considerable acting ability comes second to his rich mezzo soprano voice, which deserves a much larger canvas than this. The same goes for the two singers who find themselves at the center of the story, Siân Griffiths in the role of Fanny Price, the poor relative taken in by the Bertrams, and Milo Harries in the role of Edmund, her equally cousin. motivated who ends up understanding that he should marry her. Eleanor Garside also provides a superb comedic twist as Aunt Norris, whose main function in life is to prevent young Fanny from being accepted into that construct so central to Austen’s novels, ‘society’.
Waterperry, and this excellent production in particular (directed by Rebecca Meltzer), proves that opera doesn’t have to be grandiose to succeed. All four performances of Mansfield Park here have been sold out, thanks in part to the festival’s reputation, but also to the critical acclaim it attracted while touring this summer before reaching Waterperry itself. There is a substantial potential audience for the opera among those unlucky to benefit from corporate hospitality and who (even in the absence of a cost-of-living crisis) find the expense of a grand opera prohibitive. That’s one of the big draws of a festival like Waterperry. Another is to hear some of the great singers of the future before anyone else.