Henley Life August 2018 - page 15

Garsington Opera has gained a reputation
as one of the best opera companies in the
country. Its setting on theWormsley Estate
is sublime and its productions receive
consistently rave reviews. For this season it
commissioned a new opera. Cindy
Burrowes attended the world premiere of
The Skating Rink.
For a start Garsington is a fantastic evening
from beginning to end, particularly this
Summer. The setting really is magical in the
lush grounds of the Wormsley Estate, beautiful
and still wild with hills, woods and water.
Chattering groups sit around picnic tables,
formal dining tents or medieval-style tents lit
by lanterns. The auditorium feels like it is part
of the landscape, without intruding. Visitors
can come just for the opera or to enjoy the
whole experience, from afternoon tea in the
Walled Garden, to an interval dinner.
I am an old fashioned opera lover – I was
raised on Puccini, Donizetti and Mozart and I
suspect my opera watching and listening over
the years has become more nostalgic than
I haven’t yet understood or appreciated the
more Britten-esque form of linear classical
music so I was looking forward to seeing if I
could be persuaded over to the progressive
side. Sitting in the audience of a world
premiere is palpably exciting – to see the first
public performance of something totally new
– the air reverberated with expectation.
The Skating Rink
is composed by David Sawer
FromMorning to Night
ENO 2001) with a
libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey based
on the novel by Chilean author Roberto
The young opera critic sitting to my right
recommended reading the (short) novel
before seeing the opera – I wish I had.
The story is set in a seaside town on the
Costa Brava and is told by three narrators,
revolving around Nuria, a beautiful young
figure-skating champion.
When she is dropped from the Olympic
team, Enric, a besotted civil servant, pilfers
public funds and builds her a secret practice
rink in a deserted mansion. Nuria has affairs
and the plot soon spins into blackmail, bad
faith and treachery; the skating rink
becomes a crime scene.
And there really is a skating rink. Not for a
moment did I believe we would actually see
ice skating on the Garsington stage – but
you do – beautifully interwoven with the
brilliant operatic cast – and dare I say it,
maybe a distraction from the challenging
combination of the libretto and the score.
The cool precision of the ice rink (which
seems to also work as a non-slip stage floor
for the rest of the cast) is in startling contrast
to the bright, heat and poverty of the
beachside campsite where much of the
opera is set depicting the seediness of 80s
Costa Brava.
And all the while guarded overhead by a
neon star – which I presumed to be from
Estrella Dam (estrella means ‘star’ in Catalan
and Castillian), the beer of the region brewed
in Barcelona since 1876, and the lager of
choice on the Costa Brava.
Steward Laing is the director and designer
The Skating Rink
and has said he viewed
the production as an ‘installation’ which is
evident in the moving perspex cube used as
an indoor space for the characters to
converse within.
There is no proscenium arch at Garsington
so the audience can feel involved with the
action on stage, wrapped tighter into the
drama by the cast merging into the audience
on occasion.
“It’s a bit cubist, filmic,” Sawer, the composer,
says. “At the start of each act there are
monologues addressing the audience. Voices
are absorbed into the action, like
troubadours telling stories through song.”
And it is an intriguing story, told by a superb
cast of voices working with an expressive
orchestra blasting emotion and conflict over
the audience.
Although the tabloid English of the libretto
surprised me I was gripped from beginning
to end, and loved being at the inauguration
of something new.
To plan your visit to Garsington Opera next
season become an Affiliate Member for £20 per
year, which gives you priority booking one
month before the public. For full details visit
Review by Cindy Burrowes
It’s an intriguing story, told by
a superb cast of voices
A night
at the
| AUGUST 2018
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