Park Opera South Hill Park

Press Reviews

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Macbeth  February 2019

Having never been to the opera before and not knowing my aria from my elbow, I wasn't quite sure what I was going to get out of Verdi’s operatic retelling of the Scottish play by South Hill Park’s very own Park Opera.

Well I certainly got entertained both aurally and visually. I must admit that it did take a bit of time for these untrained ears of mine to lock into the style of delivery, but once accustomed to the tones and presentational nuances, I really did enjoy my first foray into the world of opera.

Gregor Kowalski and Elizabeth Slade as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth each gave extremely powerful vocal and at time mesmerising performances. The supporting cast followed suit and when the whole ensemble of 30 plus sang together on stage, accompanied by the note perfect orchestra under the baton of Francis Griffin, it did twitch the hairs on the back of my neck.

Director Sallie Ward's decision to set the opera in Elizabethan times was a nice touch and allowed for some impressive period costumes which, along with some creative lighting cues, added colour and vibrancy to an otherwise dark and tragic tale.

As I had seen Shakespeare’s Macbeth on the same Wilde Theatre stage only a few weeks ago, I was ready to compare them, but although the plot and characters are the same, the interpretations are so different in style, pace and impact, so it would be an unfair comparison. Suffice to say that as an introduction to opera, I was both enlightened and impressed.

Maidenhead Advertiser, March 2019      Terry Adlam

Aida  February 2016

As we hear time and again, Aida is in many ways an intimate opera, but how often is it staged with a chorus of 30 and an orchestra of 14? Admittedly there were moments in the Triumphal Scene of Park Opera’s staging where one missed a wall of sound, but it was a pleasure to hear the counterpoint of the soloists’ lines with such clarity, and elsewhere – for instance in the first part of the Judgement Scene – the woodwind achieved a particular poignancy. Francis Griffin, who made the orchestral reduction, was also the conductor; he shaped and balanced the score persuasively and the words of Graham Billing’s new translation came over with consistent clarity.

In the 330-seat Wilde Theatre, Charlotte-Ann Shipley, who spent two years at the Rome Opera Studio, had the full measure of Aida. She captured the character’s gentle dignity and floated her lines memorably in the Nile Scene duet with Radames. If Davide Sorrentino (a Sicilian who grew up in Britain) could not match her suppleness of phrasing, his top notes bloomed without fail – and the final B flat of ‘Celeste Aida’ was even accorded a diminuendo. Anna Loveday as Amneris worked the role fully into her voice and acted with growing fervour as the tragedy progressed. Gregor Kowalski, perhaps the most naturally Verdian of the principals, made an imposing Amonasro, and Jeremy Andrews and Paul Waite sang with dark strength as Ramfis and the King. If the score was stripped down, the director Sallie Ward eschewed a studio-style staging and went ambitiously for the full Egyptian: she had clearly marshalled her forces – including a delightful corps de ballet – with considerable skill amid the riot of blue, purple, red, gold, ostrich feathers, ankhs, eyeliner and luxuriant wigs.

Opera, May 2016     Yehuda Shapiro

Don Giovanni  June 2013

As an opera novice I did not know what to expect when I entered the Wilde Theatre last night, but the packed theatre was a good indicator I was in for a treat. With an excellent reputation for putting on productions to a professional standard going back more than 30 years, Park Opera had a lot to live up to and they did not disappoint.

Thankfully Mozart's Don Giovanni was performed in English so the story was easy to follow — this is something Park Opera does in every performance to make opera accessible. The standard of singing and acting from the lead characters through a very long three-hour performance at times blew me away. Although the production took the audience through different emotions, Park Opera had clearly added subtle touches to make it funnier, and this was welcome.

As well as flawless lead singers the glue of this production was the warm and expressive chorus of 20 performers who played wedding guests, servants and musicians throughout. When everyone was on stage and singing together, I found this particularly powerful and moving, and it was also clear everyone in this performance was enjoying themselves. To top everything off, the flawless orchestra with its animated musical director (and I could only see his back) wended its way through Mozart's lengthy score seemingly effortlessly and it was easy at times to get lost in the music.

Finally, I thought the costumes were stunning and professional, and now may consider myself an opera convert thanks to Park Opera's passion and vigour.

Becky Barnes reporting for the Reading Post —

Madam Butterfly  February 2013

Of all the performing arts opera probably has the biggest stigma. Grey-haired audience members, upper-classes and lyrics in a foreign language — it's no wonder most people think opera 'isn't for them.' But last night Park Opera's production of Madam Butterfly elegantly destroyed the stereotype and proved that opera really can be accessible for all.

One of the most famous operas, Madam Butterfly tells the tragic tale of Cio-Cio San, otherwise known as Butterfly, and her hopeless love for American navy Lieutenant B F Pinkerton. It is a plot which could have come straight out of a modern romantic film and Park Opera did a commendable job at telling, or rather singing, the tragic tale.

The opera has been translated from its Italian original into English which for the most part meant the story was easy to follow. But at times the power of hitting the high notes sacrificed the clarity of the lyrics, meaning elements of the story were lost.

The joy in opera comes from the music rather than the lyrics, and every note was spot on. Birmingham Conservatoire graduate Li-Li was sensational as Butterfly, floating from meek, obedient girl, to weeping, devastated wife. Robert Lomax as Pinkerton was equally impressive, his voice both powerful and romantic, and mention has to go to Graham McGregor-Smith, who played a wonderful scene as US Consul Sharpless, torn between reading a letter to Butterfly, or saving her from its painful words. The supporting cast made wonderful Geishas, shuffling in groups and giggling girlishly, and then becoming a shrieking tragic chorus.

With a stage bathed in soft lighting, littered with petals and framed by Japanese-style sliding doors, Park Opera has created it's own charming little Japanese oasis in the Wilde Theatre, emphasised by a stunning wardrobe of colourful silk kimonos.

Down in the shadows of the pit, without a kimono in sight, the orchestra played Puccini's notes with the delicacy and ferocity they demand, with musical director Lindsay Bramley leading the helm. Her passionate conducting … was equally measured by those on stage, and it is that drama and enthusiasm which made the production such a captivating tale, regardless of your opera experience.

Caroline Cook, Reading Post

Albert Herring  June 2008

Park Opera's Sallie Ward has done it again! Her production of Benjamin Britten's light-hearted opera Albert Herring was full of fun and vitality.

Albert himself was a masterpiece of acting and singing by Adam Tunicliffe — a supressed and shy teenager shuffling about in his mother's shop. His appalled reaction to the limelight in which he found himself as "King of the May" aroused our sympathy and contrasted so well with his defiant liberation after drinking a tumbler full of spirits. We rejoiced to see him shocking the staid worthies of the town and telling off his domineering mother.

The Committee members were perfect sketches — the pious vicar, the pompous mayor, the schoolmistress who is faintly out of touch, the heavy policeman and above all, the autocratic Lady Billows, played by Diana Vivian. They contrasted well with the naughty, lively children and with the saucy lad from the butcher's and the happy go-lucky girl from the bakery.

As always with Park Opera, the singing was of the highest standard — crisp and clear. It was so well integrated with the action and the choreography that it was as natural as ordinary speech.

The wholehearted involvement of everyone on stage and in the orchestra made this production of Britten's comedy a delight.

Turandot  February 2007

" was sensational. The musicality, the orchestral playing, the soloists, the spatial solutions to the huge forces, the sumptuousness of the set and costumes, all combined to make this an unforgettable experience. This was undoubtedly one of he greatest achievements in the history of the Wilde Theatre." "Park Opera decided to stage Puccini's last and most musically challenging opera as part of their 25th birthday celebrations…. They had no illusions about the depth of the undertaking. Happily, the gamble pays off — with rich rewards. Anne-Marie Czajkowski is a chilling, imperious Turandot….Andy Hart is the stubborn Calaf….(his) powerful Nessun Dorma drives home the haunting beauty of the famous aria. Maria Gayle-Rodgers is sweetly heatrbreaking as loyal Liù….Jeremy Andrews is noble, majestic in suffering and vaguely Gandalf-like as Timur. Gareth Dayus-Jone, Jonathan Bungard and Gary Maslen show wonderful comic timing and bring much-needed light relief as Ping, Pong and Pang. Paul Hughes is a silent and terrifying executioner…. thoroughly deserving the boos and hisses that greeted his curtain call. The chorus had fine strong voices, lively characterisation and enthusiasm. The children were charming. The simple set effectively invoked the royal courts of ancient China, complemented by mainly red and green lighting. All on stage — and in the orchestra — gave of themselves body, heart and soul and the result was an impressive perfomance that flew by…Park Opera have triumphed with Turandot and it is a fitting accomplishment with which to mark their anniversary year."

"Turandot includes the most popular aria in the world — Nessun Dorma…Calaf (Andy Hart) peformed this admirably on an empty stage, addng to its impact. Princess Turandot (Anne-Marie Czajkowski) gave a powerful peformance, but the highlight was the touching Liù (Marie Gayle-Rodgers). The full house made a successful first night, well supported by the chorus and orchestra — worthy of any West End theatre. A thoroughly enjoyable evening."

Cosi fan tutte  June 2006

"Park Opera performed Mozart's Cosi fan tutte with considerable flair. The orchestra was excellently balanced and the principals put in very good performances. Tara Overend (Fiordiligi)'s voice was particularly delightful and Emma Mabin (Dorabella)'s duets with her were a highpoint of the night."

"Park Opera's production of Cosi fan tutte was its contribution to the musical celebtrations of the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. The performance was a perfect balance of music and drama. The music was superb … which interpreted closely the various moods the composer expressed. Tara Overend's lament in Act II was sad and moving. Emma Tring's songs were pert and cheeky — and beautifully sung. Emma Mabin capitulated beautifully into Guiglielmo's arms. Gareth Dayus- Jones and Jonathan Bungard (Guiglielmo and Ferrando) continued to sing serenly from any position. Jeremy Andrews was a perfect Don Alfonso — a cynical man-of-the-world — with a gorgeous voice. The backbone of Park Opera is the chorus. Its performance was impressive with a lovely tone. The set was simple .. a terrace upstage with a wide backdrop which resembled the Bay of Naples. The cast was so well choeographed that they seemed to be part of the music, naturally moving about the stage and keeping the plot flowing. The whole performance was a well- balanced blend of all the ingredients. Mozart would have liked it."

La Clemenza di Tito  June 2005

"Under the baton of Brian Henry, Park Opera's strong principal line up, together with a very effective chorus, ensured that Sallie Ward's production of Mozart's last opera, performed on a set that would not have disgraced a leading opera house, was another success for this talented company. No stranger to the operatic world, Andrew Yates (Tito) made dramatic use of his strong tenor voice and excellent stage presence …. and Diana Vivian sailed effortlessly through her performance of Vitellia … Emma Mabin stole the show with her delightful and convincing characterisation as deluded, would-be assassin Sesto, while Lindsay Bramley brought a robust interpretation to the role of Annio, the tender, passionate Act I duet with Tara Overend (Servilia) proving to be one of the musical highlights of the opera. Jeremy Andrews used his resonant bass voice to good effect as Publio."

La Traviata  February 2004

"Park Opera's lavish production ….. featured wonderful singing, beautiful costumes and simple but effective sets. I particularly liked the platform behind the main action which was used for both dancing and carnival, highlighting how Violetta was cut off from her previous friends. Dominique Fegan, Violetta, …. was brilliant, with a lovely singing voice, and Neil Jordan as Alfredo was a strong romantic lead. …. We also enjoyed the gypsy dancers; … who brought a light-hearted touch to the opera: congratulations Lucy Ward who both danced and choreographed. … We are incredibly lucky here in Bracknell to be able to watch such talented people."

Tosca  June 2003

"Park Opera's production of Puccini's Tosca was good enough to be professional. … Dominique Fegan, was excellent, with a powerful singing voice and a lovely stage presence. I felt I was lucky to hear this Australian singer. In her scenes with Scarpia, David Stout, you could sense her feeling of revulsion. … As someone who, unlike most of the rest of the audience, had not seen Park Opera before, I am looking forward to their production of La Traviata."

The Queen of Spades  February 2003

"Sallie Ward, the producer, and Brian Henry, the musical director of Park Opera, have done it again! The choreography in this performance was simply astonishing, perhaps most impressively in the lovely masque with its classic shepherds and shepherdesses. As always, the costumes were good, and thoughtfully matched the mood of the drama, from the dazzling ball gowns and uniforms to the dishevelled clothes of Herman when he realised he had been deceived. …. As ever with Park Opera, the commitment and enthusiasm of its members showed in the choral singing, which was outstanding — bright, hearty and convincing. The men's choruses in the last scene were very fine indeed. …. Park Opera's next? Not to be missed."

The Marriage of Figaro  June 2002

"Park Opera celebrated their 21st season in fine style with a radiant, roller-coaster production of Mozart's comic masterpiece. The entire cast performed with the usual fine style that makes Park Opera a reliable yet always fresh treat …. throwing heart and soul into an impressive production that was a treat for the eyes and ears."

A Masked Ball  February 2002

"All the principals were good. It's wonderful to go to a production when the leading female character (who is supposed to be a great beauty) can sing and act and looks like the kind of woman who would have men fighting over her. The most memorable scene was definitely the masked ball itself; beautifully choreographed, helpfully colour-coded (red for assassins, blue for the good guys, and white and black for everyone else), with the chorus dancing merrily in the background as the tragedy of the main characters is played out at the front of the stage. I can't wait for the next one."

Don Giovanni  June 2001

"Park Opera producer Susan Moore and conductor Brian Henry, saw to it that there was clear characterisation in this enjoyable performance. Attention to detail in costumes, movement and acting, as well as in singing, was evident, right down to the little peasant boy. The music was lovely … very good soloists, shining ensembles and as usual, good singing from the enthusiastic chorus."

Eugene Onégin  June 2000

"Eugene Onégin in the manner of grand opera requires skilful presentation. On this occasion the producer, Margery Jackson, and the choreographer, Dawn Thompson, were particularly inspired. The big scenes were beautifully arranged. The St Petersburg ball was lively and wittily managed. The intimate scenes were equally successful. But, really, the production was such an enjoyable success because of the commitment and enthusiasm of everyone involved … onstage and behind the scenes."

"This was a notable interpretation. The soloists and chorus ensured the exceedingly high standards we have come to expect from this company were maintained, and the producer Margery Jackson and musical director Graeme Lodge can be well pleased with the final result."

Aida  February 2000

"This performance was a spectacle in every respect. Keith Ward's chunky Egyptian-inspired sets were reminiscent of the grandeur of Karnak. The costumes were superb. David Lacey conducted the beautiful music with great panache …. and the whole triumphal scene was very exciting. The Park's chorus was firm and precise. Their singing in the Temple in Act I was a wonderful evocation of the mystery of the strange Egyptian rites which Verdi wanted to convey. As always, Sallie Ward's arrangement of the large chorus, and their easy, natural acting, was beautifully done."

Macbeth  February 1998

"Park Opera has always specialised in tremendous soloists and a tremendous set, but now with each production the quality of the chorus and the movement on the stage gets better and better. Perhaps the best I can say was that I returned and bought a ticket for the Saturday night! This enabled me to enjoy the magnificent performance twice."

Carmen  June 1997

"What a colourfully vibrant production ….. In this remarkable visual spectacle, directed with dashing panache, ….. the entire company impressed. ….. The ensemble singing was a highlight of the evening. ….. The twenty-two young children added a fresh charm to the action and sang with joyous enthusiasm."

Il Trovatore  February 1997

"The production of this very demanding opera was outstanding. Congratulations to all those involved on a magnificent effort."

The Magic Flute  June 1996

"Beautiful costumes and imaginative lighting, combined with fine acting and singing….Mozart's masterpiece performed as it should be — bright, breezy and full of colour."

La Bohème  February 1996

"Warm and natural production…rich tones of the fine, attentive chorus. The care and attention paid by the chorus to every gesture, every tableau, making the whole a joy to look at, was typical of the whole performance."

Rigoletto  February 1993

"The colourful sets and costumes set the seal on an operatic production of which to be proud."

Albert Herring  May 1984

A superb group of singers under the baton of Brian Henry provided an evening of pure delight. Each character portrayed with meticulous attention to detail.

Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi  May 1983

The singers, all local people, ….. reminded us yet again what a marvellous depth of musical talent there is a available in this area. The singing was all good and much of it was of quite outstanding quality. ….. in both operas, serious and comic alike, the most warming feature was the splendour of the voices. This was an evening of genuine operatic singing.