Concert 29 April 2023
Review: Billingshurst Choral Society: Opera Gala Evening / Fishers Farm Theatre, Wisborough Green
Saturday evenings, for many armchair opera lovers, is frequently spent ‘at The Met’ – courtesy of Radio 3. How wonderful, therefore, to be able to enjoy an evening of one’s favourite opera highlights in the charming theatre at Fishers Farm, where the excellent Billingshurst Choral Society (BCS) was joined by members of the Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra (HPO) and three superb soloists – all under the inspirational baton of Marcio da Silva, musical director of the BCS and the HPO.
Marcio not only conducted throughout, but also gave us a most effective Scarpia, joining the chorus in the great Te Deum from Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ which brought the first half to a triumphant close.
The evening started with the overture to one of Mozart’s most popular and enduring operas – ‘The Marriage of Figaro’. Here the HPO demonstrated both a lively corporate identity and individual virtuosity, with every member of the 16-strong group working their socks off to replicate the more usual 30-strong band of - say – the Vienna Mozart Orchestra. Nothing appeared to be missing, not even the organ in the most effective monastery scene from Verdi’s ‘La Forza del Destino’ – which also showcased Helen May as tragic heroine Leonora. Helen also showed her versatility in contrasting arias such as Gershwin’s laid-back ‘Summertime’, Donizetti’s evocative ‘L’elisir d’amore’, and Lehár’s delightful ‘Vilja’; and her lovely soprano voice soared powerfully over the 60-strong chorus in Mascagni’s ‘Easter Hymn’.
And speaking of the chorus – the BCS were simply magnificent throughout, whether humming over Puccini’s pizzicato strings, singing their hearts out in Verdi’s ‘March of the Hebrew Slaves’, or welcoming Boris Godunov – Vedat Dalgiran in magnificently sonorous and sombre tone! – in Mussorgsky’s eponymous opera. Vedat’s dark rich bass timbre was again in evidence as the dignified Sarastro in Mozart’s ‘O Isis und Osiris’, and in Verdi’s ‘Simon Boccanegra’ where his voice resonated passionately over the chorus. Tenor Leonel Pinheiro won perhaps the loudest cheers of the evening with his ‘Nessun Dorma’ – a real tour de force! – and was equally effective as the tragic Canio/Pagliacci in Leoncavallo’s opera of that name, and as the defiant Cavaradossi being interrogated by Scarpia in ‘Tosca’.
In short, it was a superb evening, splendidly hosted by Tim Rollings and his Fishers Farm Team; and the small (but perfectly formed) theatre gave a delightful intimacy to proceedings which is not the case in grander and larger opera venues. Marcio da Silva is to be congratulated on directing such an ambitious programme with such aplomb, and all the performers for their parts in giving such enjoyment to a packed and highly appreciative audience!
Jane Thomas 29.04.2023