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May Night review at Garsington Oxfordshire

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Based on one of Gogol’s tales of Ukrainian life, Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1880 comedy blends two stories – that of village lad Levko, whose rival for the hand of Hanna is his father, the mayor and the legend of Pannochka, a local girl cruelly turned out of her home by her stepmother (a witch) both of whom became rusalki, or water nymphs. In the final act the two stories interconnect when Levko visits the lake and helps Pannochka discover which of the other nymphs is the witch, who is duly dragged down into the depths by the others.

In other words this is very much a folk opera with the first two acts focussing on Levko and Hanna, plus the local village elders – a group of comic grotesques – and the last beginning with the musically ravishing lake scene. There is a happy ending of course and much folk singing and dancing on the way, with Claire Gaskin’s choreography convincingly carried off by the principals and chorus.

Throughout Jamie Vartan’s imaginative designs and Olivia Fuchs’s focused production are clear in presenting the narrative, characters and relationships and this rare and attractive piece is skilfully realised. So it is musically, with conductor Elgar Howarth securing a first-rate performance.

Strong standouts from Peter Wedd as Levko, Darren Jeffery as the Mayor, Stuart Kale as the Distiller and Geoffrey Dolton as the village drunk. But there are no weak links in a worthwhile evening.

Production Information

Garsington, Oxfordshire, June 13-July 11

Olivia Fuchs
Garsington Opera
Cast includes
Darren Jeffery, Peter Wedd, Antonia Sotgiu, Michelle Walton
Running time

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