Gaetano Donizetti was a composer between 1822-1845, who, despite fame in his lifetime for work such as
through a series of flashbacks, opera arias and narration, we get a feel of what his life was like, as well as his work.
The beautiful setting of St George's Church in Kemptown lends an atmosphere that is spiritual yet sombre, as the reality of Donizetti's life unfolds. With a minimalist set of only two chairs, a prayer cushion and very subtle costume changes, we are able to focus on the characters. We feel a connection with the three onstage as they recite and react to Donizetti in his early days as he tells his wife about how he grew up in poverty, to how he treats his singers and supporters as his illness worsens. The writing eases this journey, with support from the Donizetti Society, and feels not only respectful to the composer's life, but handles his mental state with sensitivity.
Occasionally it felt as if the multiple characters could have done with a little more definition to keep them distinct from each other physically and vocally from their narrators. However, this does not detract from the quality of performances seen in The Maestro.
Sophie Methuen-Turner plays the long-suffering wife Virginia, who stuck by him through thick and thin, a narrator and the Contessa Mazolla, a financial supporter to Donizetti. Whilst Virginia was portrayed with a loving charm, her Contessa was the highlight - channelling her inner Maggie Smith, she drives the spiralling composer into rethinking his choices in not looking after himself with such control and subtle comedy that it leaves us wanting to see more of her.
Karen Orchin plays mostly singers, including opera star Lina Midello and upcoming star Giuseppina thanks to her beautiful voice. To listen to her is otherworldly - especially when she transitions with ease through her sliding scales to hit the high notes and channels such emotion that her performance is reminiscent of Lesley Garrett and Sarah Brightman.
But it is Robert Tremayne that takes centre stage as he takes on Donizetti himself. A very complex character, which needs the right actor to prevent him from becoming a caricature - of which we saw none of here in Tremayne's performance! It is clear he has taken the time to research the sort of person he's portraying. With a touch of SFX makeup, his eyes sink and his health deteriorates before us as his illness worsens in the second act, mesmerising to watch as he switches from loving husband to obsessive director to womaniser.
The Maestro is a show that is not only suitable for lovers of opera and Donizetti fans, but for those who are new to opera and Donizetti's work.