Music review: Hampstead Garden Opera at St Michael’s Church, Highgate

Hampstead Garden Opera anniversary. Picture: Eric Webb

Hampstead Garden Opera anniversary. Picture: Eric Webb - Credit: Archant

Seduction, magic and catastrophe were all at play at Hampstead Garden Opera’s 10th anniversary show, says David Winskill.

On Saturday night a normally peaceful Highgate Village was hit by drought, magic, seduction, global catastrophe and ... lemonade spiking.

Yes, Hampstead Garden Opera was having a fundraiser in the form of a look back at some of its highlights over the past decade.

The programme carried a list of HGO’s productions since 2005 and the range and ambition of this group (now celebrating its 25th anniversary) is truly astonishing.

Naturally, all the Handel and Mozart you could shake a baton at is there but also many works by less fashionable composers – Blow, Floyd and Britten – that bring special challenges of staging and performance.

Saturday consisted of five of HGO’s finest (plus the ridiculously talented continuo, musical director and singer Oliver-John Ruthven,) performing highlights of their back catalogue.

The standard was terrific and the backdrop of the slightly austere but beautiful St Michael’s Church, with its robust acoustic, was perfect.

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After a piece of Mozart, tenor William Johnston Davies and mezzo Rosemary Clifford offered the opening of Act 3 of Monteverdi’s Orfeo (includes the line “All hope abandon, ye who enter”) and were joined by the wonderful bass Chris Webb as Caronte the boatman.

Rosemary was consistently excellent throughout the concert – a strong and enchanting voice produced by a deceptively small frame.

Solos and combinations of singers gave each of the five singers the chance to shine.

Chris Webb, brought real humour to his performance as Jove in Cavalli’s la Calisto while perhaps the most intense few minutes belonged to Helen Bailey as she gave Purcell’s pleading and emotionally charged Ah, Belinda.

Her voice filled the church and her interaction and eye contact with the rapt audience was incredible.

As for the lemonade spiking? Sid and Nancy are helping the police with their enquiries.

David Winskill