Currently, more of the UK’s opera companies are tackling musicals than ever before. There are financial as well as artistic reasons for this, and there are pros and cons. On the one hand, with opera singers you can rely on excellent voices and dramatic presence; on the other, actors often have more sheer conviction in this repertoire, and regularly offer better delivery of the text.
Maybe Grange Park  has achieved the best of both worlds with this major revival of Fiddler, casting star bass-baritone Bryn Terfel – quite simply the UK’s leading opera singer from an international perspective – as Tevye the poor milkman, while the rest of the company is largely recruited from the ranks of actors – although their singing’s not bad, either.
In any case, Grange Park has some form with musicals, having staged Anything Goes (2002), Wonderful Town (2004) and – less successfully – South Pacific (2005). For my money Fiddler, as a musical, is not on the same level of any of these – moving as its evocation of a lost way of life is. There are half a dozen great songs, but the rest are rather ordinary.
Still, Terfel knows how to put this material over (he, of course, has prior experience of musicals, too), entering into the heart and soul of the Jewish father in Tsarist Russia whose traditional values are being increasingly eroded by his daughters’ repeated insistence on marrying the wrong men.
All three of these – Charlotte Harwood’s Tzeitel, Katie Hall’s Hodel, and Molly Lynch’s Chava – make their marks, as does Janet Fullerlove as Tevye’s strong-willed wife Golde and Rebecca Wheatley as Yente, the local busybody of a matchmaker. The secondary male characters – Anthony Flaum as Motel the Tailor, Jordan Simon Perchik as the radical Perchik, and Craig Fletcher as Chava’s Russian husband Fyedka – are all strongly done.
Antony McDonald’s self-designed production wonderfully conjures up the Russian village of Anatevka in 1905, while Lucy Burge’s scene-stealing choreography is stunningly executed.
Meanwhile, in other major payoffs when opera companies tackle musicals, the rich, full scoring of Don Walker’s original orchestrations is finely conveyed by the BBC Concert Orchestra under David Charles Abell, and there are no microphones.