Pop-Up Opera, Artsreach, Charlton Down

AN opera evening at Herrison Hall, Charlton Down, put on by the Artsreach rural arts touring charity, went with a pop and a fizz as the audience enjoyed a double bill of Mozart one-act operas and a chance to taste Dorset’s newest sparkling wine.

This was the second venture into opera for Artsreach, following the successful first event at Durweston last year. It again featured the talented young singers of Pop-Up Opera, this time in the comic operas, Der Schauspieldirektor and Bastien Und Bastienne.

On an exceptionally hot evening, the audience of nearly 200 filled the huge Victorian ballroom, and enjoyed the effervescent singing as well as the chilled bubbles from D’Urberville Vineyard, at nearby Bradford Peverell.

Herrison Hall has wonderful acoustics for opera, and the vast space was filled with the soaring soprano of Alys Mererid Roberts, who sang the roles of the Impresario in the first piece and the love-lorn Bastienne in the second. Many people commented on the contrast of the singer’s tiny frame with her huge  voice.

Baritone Wesley Biggs was hilarious as the bogus “relationship guru” whose dubious talents are invoked by Bastienne to win back the affections of her lover Bastien (tenor Mark Bonney).

The use of hand-written subtitles, which often provided a satirical comment on the action, proved a big hit with the audience.

Der Schauspieldirektor has a lot of spoken words which can fall a bit flat for modern audiences.  The dialogue was updated in line with the style of the production, modernising the dated and rather impenetrable German jokes of the original.

There was loud and very well-deserved applause for the singers’ accompanist, Berrak Dyer, who, as one of the singers commented afterwards, “has to play every note!”

D’Urberville is a new Dorset vineyard, producing a delicious, light sparkling wine – the perfect compliment to comic opera on a summer’s evening. This was the first public outing for the wine produced from grapes grown by farmer Colin Hawkins who established the D’Urberville Vineyard in 2011, on part of old Poundbury Farm where his father and grandfather both worked the land before him.

Colin’s grandfather knew Thomas Hardy, hence the name D’Urberville Vineyard. Colin had always dreamt of owning a vineyard. He says it has been a lot of work for a retirement project but he is thoroughly enjoying it, and is keenly supported by friends, family and the dogs, especially at harvest time!


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