I attended the first night of UCOpera's Amadis de Gaule, written in 1779 by J.C. Bach (1735-82), with text by Philippe Quinault (1635-88). The all-sung opera is a little-performed gothick gore-lust fest, driven by necromancy and redeemed by love; its large-scale score looks forward to the rich orchestral textures of late Haydn and early Weber. This production's simple, muted staging effectively evoked contemporary urban dereliction and the sundry on-stage executions and abandoned corpses were a grim nod to images of current conflicts. There was a lot of impressive, well-shaded chorus-work and orchestral playing (not least woodwind and brass) under the baton of Charles Peebles; the lack of a music department at UCL puts no brake on ambitious student music-making. While the line-up of professional soloists was regrettably uneven in both vocal quality and stage presence, full marks went to Nicholas Morris (baritone) as Arcalaus and to Alice Privet (soprano) as Orlane. Uniformly unsatisfactory, however, was the professional mise en scène that stretched limited interpretative ideas very thinly over the Bach/Quinault framework, originally conceived for the lavish all-singing/all-dancing resources of the Paris Opera (Académie Royale de Musique). Particularly inept handling of movement and risible choreography undermined some excellent musical performances. The high-blown tone of the production notes in the published programme only underlined the disjuncture between the production's ambition and its realisation.
Published in UCL Chamber Music Club Newsletter, October 2015