It's a Wonderful Life - English National Opera

Opening the London Coliseum festive season is the UK premier of It’s a Wonderful Life, based on the classic 1946 Frank Capra movie. It is here where we see the English National Opera (ENO) bring to life the classic festive film that has gripped families for generations. For those who have not seen it, the premise is quite straightforward. Set in Bedford Falls (New York) on Christmas Eve we are introduced to George Bailey who is on the verge of suicide. With his world collapsing around him, he can see no way out until his guardian angel Clara comes to show him what impact his life has had on others, his community and the world around him.

It is just a shame some of the audience members where hitting Z’s when they should have been enjoying the high C’s.

Clara (Danielle de Niese) follows George (Frederick Ballentine) through his life and witnesses the many sacrifices he has made. From saving his brother Harry (Donovan Singletary) from drowning in an icy lake, to supporting the family business with his Uncle Billy (Ronald Samm) when his father passes away and helping out the community in their moments of need. All George wants to do is escape to college and eventually travel the world to see places such as London, Paris and the Colliseum (I suppose he got one out of three).

The issue I have with this production is perhaps the actual styling of how it is delivered. It’s a Wonderful Life is written as an opera but presented to us as an over dramatic americanised musical. Of course an opera is supposed to be sung throughout, but certain elements of the performances fell flat or over compensated for when there wasn’t necessarily a need for it. Small moments such as discussing the petals of a flower in the later scenes of the second act, seemed to drag on with additional coloraturas placed into the scene which left me wondering – why couldn’t they just say it? That being said, I am still struggling to remember any standout song from the show.

The production as a whole is visually pleasing to experience. From the opening of the first act, we are enticed to beautiful aesthetic of the snow falling onto the Earth along with the twinkling of the stars in the sky as Clara sits upon a cloud and listening to the prays from the community of Bedford Falls. One particular scene that stands out by far is presented in the second act when the men are called to war as Clara walks through the life of George. The presentation of the star spangled banner on the ceiling further highlighting the loss of several soldiers from the community and the pride the community feels for these men really stuck out.

As we reached the ending of the performance, it was clear to see that the resolution of It’s a Wonderful Life was abrupt. The main elements of what took George to his despair washed away in a quick blink and everyone wen’t on with their lives where no justice to any potential villain was made. Of course a festive production should surely have a happy ending but there could have been room address this but hey, at least we all got to join in with the cast to sing along to Auld Lang Syne. It is just a shame some of the audience members where hitting Z’s when they should have been enjoying the high C’s.

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Reviews by Gareth Williams

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The Blurb

The classic Christmas story, redefined for a new generation. 

Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s operatic adaptation of the genre-defining Frank Capra film of the same name, It’s a Wonderful Life will transport you to the idyllic little town of Bedford Falls, where it’s a white Christmas – though not everything is merry and bright.

Down-on-his-luck banker George Bailey (Frederick Ballentine) feels like life has passed him by, so when his guardian angel (Danielle de Niese) pays him a visit, George is shown what life in his beloved Bedford Falls would be like without him in it: maybe it’d be a little less wonderful after all?

Aletta Collins makes her ENO debut directing and choreographing, with regular Heggie collaborator Nicole Paiement conducting the ENO Chorus and Orchestra alongside the all-star cast, which includes Gweneth Ann Rand, Jennifer France, Michael Mayes and more.

Create a new holiday tradition, book your opera tickets to Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Based on the 1946 Frank Capra movie of the same name (by permission of Paramount Licensing Inc.) and “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern.

Commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera with Co-Commissioners San Francisco Opera and the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University

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