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Chorus! starring Lesley Garrett - Birmingham Hippodrome Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Opera Celebrates The Music Of The Chorus
Famed British soprano Lesley Garrett may have been the headline name drawing in crowds to this Welsh National Opera show, but she took a backseat to give the men and women of the chorus a chance to take centre stage for a change.

Chorus! featured an array of well-loved opera classics along with operetta pieces from Gilbert & Sullivan, with Garrett popping up for seven songs during the 2h 30min show.

Welsh National Opera Chorus
Lesley Garrett headlines in Chorus! for the Welsh National Opera


Carefully selected songs that exemplified the different characteristics of a chorus over time took the audience jolting from War and Peace to Macbeth, Il Trovatore and beyond at Birmingham Hippodrome.

However, to make this performance more than just a "best of opera" selection,Welsh National Opera (WNO) also transposed the songs out of their original settings into very different scenarios. These scenes were weaved together, sometimes with a big dose of humour.

The women busily spinning wool from The Flying Dutchman's Spinning Chorus stayed on stage to be strangled by killers performing the Murderers' Chorus from Verdi's Macbeth. While policemen singing from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk were soon after seduced by sexy women appearing out of their lockers performing the Cigarette Chorus from Carmen. Our coppers then moved on to regale us with A Policeman's Lot from Pirates of Penzance.

Welsh National Opera Chorus 3
A scene from Welsh National Opera's Chorus!


And when it came to Les Voici from Carmen (when the chorus normally cheers on the bullfighters), the toreadors were replaced by celebrities from Marilyn Monroe to Andy Warhol, superman and a Lily Savage-type figure arriving on a red carpet. It's all quirky fun, adding a bit of unexpected zest to the old classics.

Garrett, of course, added her own touch of celebrity to the proceedings but didn't dazzle the audience as much as the jewels around her neck. Her sections were enjoyable enough but not all the song choices did her justice, such as Rataplan in the first act. She seemed more in her element for Alabama Song from The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny as she strutted around saucily but her voice, at times, did not sound as powerful as expected.

Better still were Barcarolle and Panis Angelicus, which were beautifully performed by the soprano, and Garrett saved The Impossible Dream, which has become somewhat of a signature tune for her, until nearing the end of the night.

Welsh National Opera Chorus 2
A host of famous opera arias feature in WNO's Chorus!


Over the centuries, a chorus has been used in many ways - to narrate, to be the voice of the masses, and to voice sacred religious ideals. Whether it was the mob in War and Peace or dreamily bathed in blue light and resting their heads on pillows to sing Hush No More from The Fairy Queen, the talented cast of singers took us through this journey.

A lengthy part of the second act was taken up by several excerpts from Musorgsky's Khovanshchina that didn't fit in with the seamless constant movement of the rest of the show. This section could have benefitted from being far briefer.

Welsh National Opera Chorus4
Soprano Lesley Garrett singing in the religious section of Chorus!


Garrett was obviously a bonus to the evening but it was the chorus that made the most emphatic impression, particularly with the Slave Chorus, or Va Pensiero, from Verdi's Nabucco, and a rousing rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah.

And rightly so, as after all, this was a production created and named in their honour.

Rating: 6/10

Other performances in the Welsh National Opera Spring Season are The Magic Flute and Hansel & Gretel, all performed at Birmingham Hippodrome until March 7. Tickets cost from £16 by calling 0844 338 5000 or visiting the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

Chorus! by Welsh National Opera continues on tour after Birmingham Hippodrome to:

Venue Cymru, Llandudno - 11 Mar
Milton Keynes Theatre - 18 Mar
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton - 25 Mar
Theatre Royal, Plymouth - 31 Mar
The Bristol Hippodrome - 8 Apr

Cast of Chorus!

Soloist - Lesley Garrett

Chorus
Soprano
Meriel Andrew, Anitra Blaxhall, Megan Llewellyn Dorke, Stephanie Edwards, Paula Greenwood, Claire Hampton, Fiona Harrison, Rosie Hay, Emma Mary Llewellyn, Stacey Wheeler

Mezzo-soprano
Amanda Baldwin, Neda Bizzarri, Jessica Handley Greaves, Helen Greenaway, Carolyn Jackson, Helen Jarmany, Sian Meinir, Nicola Morgan, Sarah Pope, Louise Ratcliffe

Tenor
Simon Crosby Buttle, Michael Clifton-Thompson, Paul Gyton, Philip Lloyd Holtam, Howard Kirk, Gareth Lloyd, Huw Llywelyn, Richard Monk, Cárthaigh Quill, Joe Roche

Bass
Julian Boyce, Laurence Cole, Jasey Hall, Philip Lloyd-Evans, Martin Lloyd, Alastair Moore, George Newton-Fitzgerald, Jack O'Kelly, Owen Webb, Stephen Wells

Dancer - Chris Tudor
Conductor - Alexander Martin
Director - David Pountney
Designer - Johan Engels
Lighting Designer - Ian Jones
Choreographer - Denni Sayers
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Why? Wonderful selection of opera songs from the chorus
When: Touring Until April 8
Phone: 0844 338 5000 for Birmingham. See we sit for other venues
Where: Touring - Birmingham, Bristol, Milton Keynes, Southampton, Wales
Cost: From £16
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