Professional performers and UCL students join together for a performance of Verdi’s Romantic opera Aroldo.
UCOpera’s choice of Verdi’s Aroldo is consistent with their tradition of avoiding the most famous works of any composer. On arrival, I was instantly impressed with the beautiful interior of the Theatre Royal Stratford East, and the rest of the evening did not let down my high expectations of a society that always receives glowing feedback on all of their productions.
It is not completely surprising that Aroldo never received the fame of Verdi’s La Traviata and Aida; despite its music being as dramatically orchestrated and harmonically elaborate as his more renowned operas, the story line is often slow and rather repetitive. Originally set in the Crusades, UCOpera’s version is a modern adaptation. Last night I found this unfortunately did not always come across, but perhaps the language barrier was the main preventative aspect in this delivery to the audience. It did not, however, prevent the production from keeping the audience gripped with the wonderful solos and chorus numbers throughout.
The evening began with a brilliant overture that acted as word painting for the backstory of the main plot, which was displayed on boards around the stage. The overture drew to a close as a crowd gathered on the stage and a visibly distraught female cowered in the corner. The a cappella singing that followed instantly demonstrated the talent of the chorus, then the drama kicked off, and there was no let up until the very last scene.
A number of aspects stood out as particularly effective throughout the evening. The chorus singing from offstage when Aroldo was on the verge of killing Vinny added a dramatic aspect and allowed the audience to get inside Aroldo’s head and understand his thoughts at a pivotal moment. Although I must admit I did not fully understand what was going on at this point in the opera, the scene with the transparent sheet that represented Loch Lomond was visually fascinating and very neatly staged, helping to transport the audience to the Scottish lake, and its aesthetically pleasing nature ensured that a lack of understanding did not limit enjoyment.
I did not understand the reasoning behind changing the character’s names for the subtitles, not only into English names but into shortened forms such as Minnie for Mina and Vinny for Godvino. Other than getting an initial giggle from the audience, this did not add anything to the production. Another niggle I had was with the costumes: perhaps I was missing something but I did not see the consistency in the Yeezy-style ripped up hoodies and jeans, waistcoat-clad men and an almost constantly dressed-up female lead. If modernisation was the aim here, I feel this could have definitely been more uniform across characters.
However these are really niggling points when compared to the flawless performances of the cast members. Although some audience members could be disappointed that the protagonists are not played by UCL students but instead by paid professionals, I feel this is a completely necessary addition. The chorus and orchestra of UCL students were to an exceptionally high standard, but I don’t particularly fancy sitting through a night of amateur arias and duets, and found the working together of the professionals and students a delight to watch.
Aroldo is beyond a doubt the most professional UCL production I have seen, which is helped by the beautiful theatre setting (and of course the professionalism of the principal singers and some members of the production team), but is mostly down to the wonderful singing and acting of all involved and the ever-superb orchestra, directed by Charles Peebles. Credit should also go to producer Florentina Harris and opera director Pia Furtado, whose hard work certainly paid off in a memorable evening of Verdi’s heart-wrenching Romantic classical opera.
Featured Image: UCOpera