Hampstead Garden Opera review: Savitri at Lauderdale House
- Credit: Archant
Opera returned to North London with a beautiful outdoor, socially distanced performance of Gustav Holst’s Savitri at the Highgate arts centre
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.
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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.
HGO’s Savitri runs until August 22 on selected dates. For details see www.lauderdalehouse.org.uk/whats-on/outdoor-shows