Pegasus Opera aims to provide opportunities for artistes of diverse backgrounds and to promote opera in under-served and culturally diverse communities. To this end, it provides educational programmes for thousands of young people in London and the regions. It also stages productions, this time a double bill of two short operas by the American (b 1932) composer Philip Hagemann, who also conducted.
Of the two works performed at the new Susie Sainsbury Theatre at the Royal Academy of Music, ‘The Music Cure’ is by far the more successful, owing mostly to the composer’s frequent use of themes lifted wholesale from works by Wagner, Chopin and many others including early C20 popular songs! The opera is a musical setting of Bernard Shaw’s ‘curtain raiser’ of the same name, written as a topical skit based on the Macaroni Scandal of alleged improper dealing in shares by politicians. In fact, it is Oliver Brignall’s highly physical and totally committed portrayal of this ‘insider trader’ that makes the entire evening worth travelling miles to see! Not only does he possess a fine tenor, but he is also a superb actor with many inventive facial expressions, and he copes well with the angular music he is given to sing as he tries to come to terms with the fact that he has done something wrong! He is ably supported by Peter Brathwaite as his doctor and by Alison Buchanan, who is the artistic director of Pegasus Opera.
The other opera, ‘The Nightingale and The Rose’, is based on a short story by Oscar Wilde, with a libretto by the composer, telling the story of a Student who will do anything to get what his beloved wants: a red rose. Of course, when he manages to get one she has changed her mind! The Student is portrayed by baritone Nicholas Morton, a recent graduate of the RCM Opera School. He has a most attractive middle and lower register, even if occasional high notes seem insufficiently supported. I look forward to hearing him again in a few years time. The Student is helped in his quest by a Nightingale, ably sung by Katie Grosett as well as by a team of six other singers who usually act as a Greek-style chorus.
The music of this opera is tonal, mostly in minor keys and slow; unfortunately lacking variety and memorability.
Both works are greatly enhanced by very imaginative settings and costumes designed by Richard Evans – clearly someone to look out for – and lighting design by Charlie Morgan Jones. The director Louise Bakker does her best to inject some life into ‘The Nightingale and The Rose’, and succeeds very well with ‘The Music Cure’, which has the energy and, at times, the pace, which is lacking for much of the evening.
Full marks to Raja Halder, leader of the 15-piece orchestra (including members of the Lambeth Youth Symphony), and to the superb piano soloist, Jan Rautio.
This company has tremendous talent and potential: it is to be hoped that next time they will choose music that is more worthy of their talents.
Review by John Groves
The first act is The Nightingale and the Rose features themes of love and rejection. Oscar Wilde’s bittersweet production sees a student who falls for a young maiden, who demands the student show his feelings by giving her a red rose. Unable to find one, a nightingale offers to make a red rose for him. The production stars celebrated soprano Alison Buchanan, award-winning baritone Peter Brathwaite (Effigies of Wickedness at Gate Theatre), Oliver Brignall, Thomas Bennett, Angela Caesar (Caroline or Change at Playhouse Theatre), Katie Grosslet, Amal Khalidi and Nick Morton. The second act is The Music Cure, a satirical comedy set in the 1900s, which sees Lord Reginald being investigated by Parliament for insider trading. This unwanted scrutiny makes the Lord depressed, so his beloved mother hires a famous, dynamic female concert pianist to cheer him up. This tale of love, desire and corruption is played out with outstanding, specially adapted music. The Music Cure stars Alison Buchanan, Peter Brathwaite and Oliver Brignall.
Both productions have been adapted by composer and conductor Philip Hagemann who first collaborated with Pegasus Opera Company in 2018. Shaw Goes Wilde is a unique opportunity to showcase two British iconic Irish playwrights and present a diverse cast and creative team in a brand new venue in London – namely the Susie Sainsbury Theatre, part of the Royal Academy of Music.
Pegasus Opera Company Present the UK Premiere of two (one act) operas
SHAW GOES WILDE
Composed and conducted by Philip Hagemann, directed by Louise Bakker
The two one-act shows will be performed on Friday 12, Saturday 13 at 7.30pm and Sunday 14 April at 2.30pm at the new Susie Sainsbury Theatre, Royal Academy of Music, London, NW1 5HT.