In their Opera Gala Concert, the Sussex Symphony Orchestra is celebrating some of opera's most iconic heroes and heroines and their wicked stories of lust, passion, death and betrayal. I wasn’t the only one seeking refuge from the Eurovision mayhem at the All Saints Church in Hove. It was a full house (or chapel) drawn together by the love of opera.
Delightful operatic treats in an easily approachable format.
The Heroes & Heroines repertoire consisted mostly of the usual suspects: Puccini, Mozart, Bizet, Rossini, with some rare treats, like Rameau’s overture from Castor et Pollux and the ballet Daphnis et Chloe by Ravel. The beautiful French gothic style All Saints Church with its majestic vaulted roof, late Victorian glass windows and stone reredos behind the high altar, offered a remarkable venue for the performance. It also gave the music divine acoustics most concert halls can only dream about.
There were several heroic performances tonight. The first hero was Musical Director Emeritus Mark Andrew James, who was returning as a guest conductor after his official retirement. There would be no Sussex Symphony Orchestra without his dedication and hard work. Since forming the orchestra in 1993, James has provided local musicians unparalleled opportunities to perform top class repertoires to the highest standard. James guided the audience through the stories of orchestral heroes and heroines with his warm and relaxed demeanor, making everyone feel at home.
That takes us to the second hero: the Sussex Symphony Orchestra. It is beyond me how this level of quality in delivery is achieved by semi-professional musicians. Or as they put it: musicians who perform at professional standards, but have chosen other walks of life, both students and gifted amateurs. The orchestra was outstanding throughout the night, but in the rare performance of Suite 2 from Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloe, they really got to show what they were made of. Described by many as a masterpiece for orchestra, the suite truly made them rise to new heights.
The heroine of the night was soprano Jo Appleby. Her bright voice impressed with its sheer power, precision and rich tone. Her top notes were sung with beautiful dynamic control. Her stage presence made her a compelling performer, who not only conveyed emotions with her voice, but with her whole being. She went deep into character as Tosca, Carmen, Mimi from La Boheme, and Madame Butterfly. Her male counterpart, Welsh tenor John Pierce had his work cut out trying to keep up. His rather stiff appearance was fortunately compensated with a good range, power and vocal versatility. Pierce’s Nessun Dorma aria was a gracious finish to a wonderful evening.
The opera gala with the Sussex Symphony Orchestra offered delightful operatic treats in an easily approachable format. Although most of the audience was well into their 60s, there were also some young adults and even families with children. The Sussex Symphony Orchestra is dedicated to making classical music accessible to everyone, and the audience commended this with a standing ovation. Do support your local symphony orchestra!