Hampstead Garden Opera review: Savitri at Lauderdale House

HGO brings live opera back to London with an open-air, socially-distanced production of Gustav Holst

HGO brings live opera back to London with an open-air, socially-distanced production of Gustav Holsts Svitri , a tale of life, death, illusion and hope powerfully resonant with our times. HGO is dedicated to supporting singers at the start of their careers they will lead the return of vibrant opera to the capital. The open-air production of this one-act opera will take place, in accordance with government regulations, in the gardens of Lauderdale House, Highgate, with two performances per evening (at 18:30 and 20:00) on each of Thursday 13th, Saturday 15, Thursday 20th and and Saturday 22nd August This will be a complete performance of the opera, which lasts about 35 minutes. The production is staged by Julia Mintzer, and conducted by Thomas Payne. Svitri is told by Death that her husband Satyavn is about to die. When he returns from his days work in the forest he collapses. Death now offers Svitri a wish, and she asks for Life. Death agrees, but Svitri then points out that life for her i - Credit: Archant

Opera returned to North London with a beautiful outdoor, socially distanced performance of Gustav Holst’s Savitri at the Highgate arts centre

HGO brings live opera back to London with an open-air, socially-distanced production of Gustav Holst

HGO brings live opera back to London with an open-air, socially-distanced production of Gustav Holsts Svitri , a tale of life, death, illusion and hope powerfully resonant with our times. HGO is dedicated to supporting singers at the start of their careers they will lead the return of vibrant opera to the capital. The open-air production of this one-act opera will take place, in accordance with government regulations, in the gardens of Lauderdale House, Highgate, with two performances per evening (at 18:30 and 20:00) on each of Thursday 13th, Saturday 15, Thursday 20th and and Saturday 22nd August This will be a complete performance of the opera, which lasts about 35 minutes. The production is staged by Julia Mintzer, and conducted by Thomas Payne. Svitri is told by Death that her husband Satyavn is about to die. When he returns from his days work in the forest he collapses. Death now offers Svitri a wish, and she asks for Life. Death agrees, but Svitri then points out that life for her i - Credit: Archant

No one was surprised that there was a queue.

Masked-up, we waited patiently to have our temperatures taken, produced our self-printed tickets, scanned the QR code to download the programme, and shuffled off to be shown our little 3m x 2m patches of socially-distant paradise.

After four months of cultural lockdown, opera was back in north London!

Lauderdale House director Katherine Ives and Hampstead Garden Opera’s David Conway had thought of everything to make our visit as accessible and safe as possible.

HGO brings live opera back to London with an open-air, socially-distanced production of Gustav Holst

HGO brings live opera back to London with an open-air, socially-distanced production of Gustav Holsts Svitri , a tale of life, death, illusion and hope powerfully resonant with our times. HGO is dedicated to supporting singers at the start of their careers they will lead the return of vibrant opera to the capital. The open-air production of this one-act opera will take place, in accordance with government regulations, in the gardens of Lauderdale House, Highgate, with two performances per evening (at 18:30 and 20:00) on each of Thursday 13th, Saturday 15, Thursday 20th and and Saturday 22nd August This will be a complete performance of the opera, which lasts about 35 minutes. The production is staged by Julia Mintzer, and conducted by Thomas Payne. Svitri is told by Death that her husband Satyavn is about to die. When he returns from his days work in the forest he collapses. Death now offers Svitri a wish, and she asks for Life. Death agrees, but Svitri then points out that life for her i - Credit: Archant


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Hordes of cheery young people were on hand to ensure that this desperately abnormal evening would be fun.

Taken from the Mahabharata, Gustav Holst’s 1916 piece (intended for performance in the open) is the charming story of woodman Satyavan and his wife Savitri (played with passionate energy by soprano Joanne Harries)

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She hears the voice of Death, who has arrived to claim her husband.

And although he tries to reassure her saying her fears are illusion “All is Unreal, all is Maya,” he succumbs and Savitri is disconsolate.

Death takes pity and offers her a wish – but not the return of Satyavan (the excellent tenor Jack Roberts).

Cleverly, she requests Life in all its bounty: Death grants her request.

Then, her coup de grace – “I can have no life without Satyavan!”

Death (Dan D’Souza’s rich bass) is routed, Satyavan re-joins the living.

“Death is Maya”.

Much of the narrative is driven by the silent chorus of eight dancers and solo performer Laura Calcagno who make excellent creative use of the west terrace of Lauderdale House. Sadly, the forecast of rain (we got a light shower) kept the twelve-piece chamber orchestra undercover, perhaps inhibiting the audience’s ability to enjoy some beautiful music.

Director Julia Mintzner makes a virtue of the difficult times that surround HGO’s production of this 30 minute opera.

In the programme she writes “Savitri is the ideal piece for the extraordinary time in which to making art: … physically distanced and yearning for contact.”

The (necessarily) small but enthusiastic audience would agree and thank everyone at HGO and Lauderdale for a beautiful and hugely memorable evening.

4/5 stars.

HGO’s Savitri runs until August 22 on selected dates. For details see www.lauderdalehouse.org.uk/whats-on/outdoor-shows

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