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Tell Me the Truth About Love review at Sage Gateshead – ‘feel-good community opera’

Louise Webster as Gemma, the bride, in Tell Me the Truth About Love. Photo: Rey Trombetta Louise Webster as Gemma, the bride, in Tell Me the Truth About Love. Photo: Rey Trombetta
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Streetwise Opera is a charity that provides singing lessons and performance opportunities for people that have experienced homelessness. A co-production with Northern Sinfonia, its latest show Tell Me the Truth About Love is a joyous and passionate celebration of Tyneside past and present.

Professional mezzo soprano Anna Huntley leads the non-professional ensemble cast, starring as perennial singleton Tina, who is a bridesmaid at her sister Gemma’s wedding. Her reluctant quest to find a man at the wedding forms the central narrative of Meriel Sheibani-Clare’s well-crafted story, which is interspersed with family arguments, fond childhood memories and revelations of secret affairs from the guests.

This is not an opera in the traditional sense. The music of Britten and Tchaikovsky is joined by traditional folk tunes, 1980s power ballads and even Jimmy Nail. Yet this disparate source material is given cohesion by Timothy Burke’s assured musical direction.

Although it is clear that Huntley is the only professional singer on Samal Blak’s pristine white petal-strewn stage, there are some nice performances from among the 30-strong ensemble. Martin Rivers, who plays wedding guest Malcolm, has a gentle soulful voice, while Louise Webster is highly entertaining as the larger-than-life bride. Special mention should also go to Bridgette Foley, who brings both a terrier-like fierceness and a vulnerability to the role of Tina’s estranged mother.

Director Bijan Sheibani has done a fine job, instilling great discipline in his large ensemble while giving them the freedom to lose themselves to their own energy. This fine balancing act between tight choreography and unbridled exuberance is most evident in the rousing rendition of the Blaydon Races.

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Feel-good community opera celebrating life on Tyneside