When I think about what makes the great British country opera season special, I turn my mind to the wonderful festivals there are over the summer: Garsington, Glyndebourne, Longborough Opera.
Perhaps it’s the sight of British people in black tie having their picnics under the setting sun, quaffing too much champagne and waxing lyrical about ‘the last time they saw this opera at the Garden’.
Many festivals have their charm but for me, Grange Park has the edge for its Bohemian grandeur. Wasfi Kani puts her heart and soul into this glorious neoclassical mansion in Hampshire, and the festival is going from strength to strength. Not only that, on an opening night such as this, it is awash with the great, the good and the famous. (I shared a joke with the great Topol en route to the dining room.)
The 2015 season kicked off with a heart-rousing roar of ‘Tradition’, from Fiddler on the Roof. What a coup to have Bryn Terfel as Tevye the milkman in Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s shows. A musical I hear you cry? Yes, a musical. And why not?
I had forgotten what wonderful rousing music this was, packed with great tunes and all-dancing, all-singing ensemble numbers. The Russians-versus-Jews dance-offs at the inn had spectacular choreography by Lucy Burge, which got the whole audience toe tapping and applauding throughout – and some superb singing too.
Next time the ENO stage Sweeney Todd they should take a leaf out of Grange’s book and use an opera chorus in a musical. It really works: that full-blooded and hearty sound, instead of the pinched belting screams one can hear in a West End show. It really added some welly.
The soloists were on great form, even though they often played second fiddle to Bryn. What’s great, though, is that he didn’t ham it up. It was right on the nose, earnest and sincere, a brilliant performance and thought-provoking in its all too relevant theme. Jewish or not, this is universal.
All the singers were un-miked, a brave and admiral approach, even if it proved slightly fatiguing for one or two soloists, and the BBC Concert Orchestra was sensationally conducted with flair and energy by David Charles Abell.
I particularly like Katie Hall as Hodel (who had just sung Johanna in Sweeney Todd at the ENO), Charlotte Harwood as Tzeitel, Rebecca Whetley as the matchmaker and Anthony Flaum, who gave a loveable performance as Motel the tailor.
The cast and chorus seemed to have acquired some impressive inside knowledge on Yiddish expressions and gesticulations, so I can only assume a Yiddish consultant was brought in for an afternoon. It certainly paid off. At one point it seemed all my extended family were on stage. Oy vey!
Fiddler on the Roof is on until 3 July and makes a Proms appearance on Saturday 25 July