The Little Sweep and Down in the Valley

Venue: Opera Society, Jack Lyons Concert Hall
Date: Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th June

Set in Edwardian Suffolk, Benjamin Britten’s mini-opera ‘The Little Sweep’ told a charming tale of how a terrified young sweeper boy, Sammy, is found up the chimney by the children of the house during a game of hide and seek. The children then set out to liberate Sammy from his cruel owners by comically smuggling him out of the house in a trunk.

This fast-paced and light humoured opera was sung with lively enthusiasm especially, and appropriately, by the sopranos cast in child roles. First year music student Hannah Gibbs had the difficult task of playing 9 year old sweep Sammy, but after an over-acted opening scene grew more convincing through the night.

Written originally as a youth-opera ‘The Little Sweep’ often felt more like a musical than an opera due to its rhyming lines and west-end style dance routines – perhaps an appropriate choice for a student production whose aim was to “make opera accessible to young people”.

Fiona Constantine led powerfully playing the fearsome housekeeper Miss Baggott. Unfortunately her ambitious attempt to lead the spectators in three ‘audience songs’ fell flat on its face as being expected to sight-sing sheet music left most of the audience mumbling self-consciously into their programmes.

The second opera of the night was ‘Down in the Valley’ composed by Kurt Weill. A story of forbidden love during the Depression in America, ‘Down in the Valley’ is told in flashback form. Yonathan Van Den Brink opened the opera with an impressive bass solo, a standard which would continue throughout. Anna Edgington played the leading female role of Jennie Parsons effortlessly and both sung and acted with brilliance.

An orchestra conducted by Neil Smith accompanied both performances tucked discretely behind the backdrop. Several singers could have used personal microphones however, as weaker singers were often unable to project themselves over the sound of the orchestra. Nevertheless, these two fast-paced performances achieved their goal of “bringing opera to students” and provided an entertaining evening enjoyed by all.

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