Enchanted Island

British Youth Opera is now just over 30 years old, and for a long time I’ve looked forward eagerly to their yearly offering, two operas in a week's rep. I was first alerted to the charms of the company by my great colleague Jane Manning, who mentioned how interesting it had been to see a La Boheme ‘with real students onstage’. And similarly I’ll never forget their version of the same composer’s La Rondine, focusing on the forbidden passion between a very young man and an older woman, he full of of optimism, she of foreboding; a heartrending memory to this day.

This year’s production of The Enchanted Island is already treasured in my memory. Composed, if that's the word, by Jeremy Sams, it’s a mashup of baroque arias (the majority by Handel) conforming to a conceptually brilliant libretto in which the lovers from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, while on honeymoon, are shipwrecked onto the island from The Tempest. Sometimes rather boring in the real play, the place has livened quite up a bit, with Sycorax, the mother of Caliban, appearing as a major character, and occasional spots from Neptune, God of the Sea.

Budgets for this company are presumably quite tight, but I thought Stuart Barker’s production was a miracle of stagecraft, ingeniously re-using simple objects in graciously measured counterpoint to the splurge-y craziness of the story material. My impression was enhanced by viewing a few online snatches of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2011 world premiere; over-designed, over-acted, exactly why I don’t generally enjoy darkening the doors of places like that. I should add that it was a pleasure to hear BYO’s version accompanied by modern instruments (South Bank Sinfonia) enhancing the fabulous stretch of Handel’s melodies in particular.

Pictured - from my Italian holiday last year which alas I didn't get round to taking this year...

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JUDITH WEIR

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