Here at the OperaWatch offices at Northern Soul Towers there was an outbreak of Covid which meant self-isolation for the entire team. Our trainee OperaWatch critics were dropping like suspended Tory MPs and our entire operation ground to a halt.
It came at a bad time with the Opera North winter season in full swing as well as a Yorkshire dialect version of The Barber of Seville in Bradford (well received in The Observer) On top of that, English National Opera announced that it would move to Manchester in 2029. We will have to take on extra trainee opera critics so keep an eye out in the situations vacant at your local job centre.
We had recovered enough to get to the RNCM’s student production of The Snow Maiden by Rimsky-Korsakov. I really love the professionalism of the students at the college who constantly amaze me with the quality of their work. It is also a testimony to the commitment of the staff who, year in, year out, turn out such highly skilled graduates. Professor Linda Merrick, recently honoured, gave a rousing speech at the Principal’s Reception in praise of the continuing exemplary standards of one of the best conservatoires in Europe.
The Snow Maiden is a dark, magical story mined from Slavic folklore. She is the naive and lovelorn daughter of Father Frost (Adam Jarman) and Mother Spring (Olivia Swain). Knowing nothing of earthly desire, the Snow Maiden (Jessica Hopkins) falls for the songs of Lyel (Sophie Clarke), a local shepherd. Her parents reluctantly grant her permission to live among the local villagers under the adoption of Bobil (Yihui Wang) and Bobylikha (Leah McCabe).
In the middle of an operatic love quadrangle, Kupava (Charlotte Baker) is betrothed to Mizgir (Matthew Secombe) but when Mizgir sees the Snow Maiden, he falls for her and dumps Kupava who is picked up by Lyel. The Tsar (Henry Strutt) attempts to sort it all out with a bacchanal of singing and dancing. Kupava and Lyel are married and the Snow Maiden and Mizgir are about to follow with everyone living happily ever after as they sing the praises of the day of the Sun God. What follows (as my friend Eamonn pointed out) is a uniquely tragic end to any opera. As the sun shines on the day of the Sun God, the rays melt the Snow Maiden as she experiences human love for the first time. Mizgir is so distraught and inconsolable that he drowns himself in the watery remains of his love. I said it was dark.
All the main players and the chorus sang with energy during a lengthy performance. Praise must go to Jessica Hopkins for her towering central role as the Snow Maiden with a voice to match. The stage design was redolent of the heavenly stairs in A Matter of Life and Death, adding a welcome gravitas. I wish I had the space to praise every member of this fine and moving production. Bravi a tutti.
Main image by Robin Clewley