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The Skating Rink review at Garsington Opera, Wormsley – ‘finely observed’

Alice Poggio in The Skating Rink at Garsington Opera. Photo: John Snelling
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Towards the end of a strong season, Garsington unveils a new opera – other than community works the first at this venue.

It’s the fourth by David Sawer, now in his mid-50s. The subject is taken from a novel by the Chilean writer Roberto Bolano, who died in Spain in 2003.

The Skating Rink describes how Enric, a middle-aged civil servant in a Spanish seaside town, conceives a passion for Nuria, a local figure skater, and embezzles funds to create for her a skating rink in a deserted palace. How his romantic but nefarious scheme eventually unravels provides the narrative, seen from his perspective as well as, earlier in the piece, from those of Gaspar, a local night-watchman, and Remo, a businessman who has an affair with Nuria; the result turns into a mystery with a whodunnit element.

Sawer’s setting of Rory Mullarkey’s libretto maintains clarity and his score combines immediacy with pace: there’s a particularly magical sequence when skater Alice Poggio takes to the ice as Nuria (the role is sung by Lauren Zolezzi) and Sawer’s music soars in lyrical flight; but overall it’s a piece whose qualities will be quickly grasped by the audience. Garry Walker conducts the Garsington Opera Orchestra in a taut and cohesive performance.

Stewart Laing both directs and designs the set. The result is finely observed,  offering a view of the underbelly of Spanish life that tourists never see: the sleaziness of local politicians, the desire to tidy the place up by removing vagrants, the general dissatisfaction of the locals with life on the Costa Brava.

The cast is consistently strong, with standouts from Susan Bickley’s earthy Carmen, a former opera singer on her uppers, Alan Oke’s dysfunctional Rookie, and especially Grant Doyle as cheesy, desperate Enric.

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Garsington’s first major premiere is finely observed and strongly performed