Most concerts go on too long a view which in my case was formed as a teenager by late night gallops from Sheffield City Hall in the hope of catching the last bus at the traffic lights. Peter Knapp, of Travelling Opera feels the same way, and his productions are usually cut to a manageable length. They are also sung in English, and accompanied by an orchestra small enough so as not to call for brazen-lunged singing. "So if the part is for a beautiful girl I can cast one rather than having to settle for someone less attractive with a big voice. "
This season, Travelling Opera, as well as touring with standard repertoire productions, is also giving school presentations, intended to introduce pupils of all ages to some of the conventions and delights of opera.
I saw them at the Swan Theatre, Stratford, giving a one-hour presentation during which Peter Knapp, supported by two singers and a pianist, explained some of the principles of operatic technique, and showed how a scene from Carmen might develop in rehearsal.
It was intriguing, as well as extremely enjoyable. Maria Jagusz sang wonderfully as Carmen, with Stephen Crook as Don Jose, and the audience gained a great deal from seeing and hearing Peter Knapp as he helped his singers to add movement and gesture to the music.
There was a good deal of audience participation, too boys and girls were given vocal warm-ups, and joined in a bar or two of the "Toreador's Song". Peter Knapp also asked for a volunteer to replace Stephen Crook as Don Jose in the scene where Carmen virtually seduces her way out of prison. This enviable offer was taken up with admirable insouciance by Andrew, a pupil of King Edward VI School, Stratford, "So long as I don't have to sing".
Though based on Carmen other music was included, and the presentation ended with a performance of the mock-Viennese song "Wunderbar" from Kiss Me Kate.
Most of the pupils at this presentation seemed to be GCSE or A-level music students, and although the afternoon was certainly suitable for them, it was interesting enough (and at 70 minutes short enough too) to appeal to upper primary school pupils.
Travelling Opera will be giving performances and school presentations in different parts of the country through the summer term. Travelling Opera, 114 St Mary's Road, Market Harborough, Leicestershire LE16 7DX. Tel: 01858 434677