Royal Opera Christmas concert review – pandemic pyjama party around the tree | Opera


Curious though it may seem, the Royal Opera staged a pyjama party for its Christmas concert, the stream of which went ahead as scheduled, though tier 3 restrictions meant there was no live audience as originally planned. Director Dan Dooner was, one assumes, responsible for the overarching concept behind a programme of operatic acts and scenes, all reimagined as a series of get-togethers round a Christmas tree (borrowed from the Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker), for which the singers were dressed in an assortment of pyjamas, dressing gowns and slippers – whether their own or provided by the costume department, we were not told.

Idiosyncratic though it was, some of it actually worked rather well. Act two of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel found Hanna Hipp and Sophie Bevan as the two children contentedly wrapping Christmas presents, unaware that the room round them is taking on an increasingly sinister aspect. Stranger things than dressing its cast in pyjamas have been done over time to Mozart’s Magic Flute, excerpts from which brought the programme to a close. A chunk of the Café Momus scene from Puccini’s La Bohème was suitably witty, if hampered a bit by the need for social distancing on stage. Baritone Roderick Williams acted as compère throughout, meanwhile, and joined the Royal Opera Chorus for Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Christmas Carols, done rather formally at the evening’s midpoint.

Hanna Hipp as Hänsel, Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha as Sandman and Sophie Bevan as Gretel in Hansel and Gretel. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

With conductor Mark Wigglesworth on fine form in the pit, and soloists mostly, though not exclusively, drawn from members, or former members, of the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, it all sounded excellent, and qualms about the concept eventually vanished. Hipp and Bevan had fun as Hansel and Gretel, though the high point here came with Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha’s ravishing performance of the Sandman’s aria. Alexandra Lowe’s wonderfully sung and acted Musetta rightly stole Bohème act two from an impressive lineup that included David Butt Phillip as Rodolfo, Rangwanasha as Mimì and Germán E Alcantára as Marcello. Ross Ramgobin, rapidly emerging as a fine-singing actor, was sweet, funny and touching as Mozart’s Papageno, opposite Filipe Manu’s Tamino, beautiful in Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön. The choral singing was superb both in the Vaughan Williams and the closing scene of Magic Flute, which ended the evening in a blaze of glory.


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