Béatrice et Bénédict at the Royal Academy of Music

Outside was all coldness and the premature darkness of a November evening, inside was warmth, beautiful music and the eternal optimism of love. My second visit to see the Royal Academy of Music Opera and another superb production with top-drawer performances, this time with the added bonus of happy endings and jollity. Bugs Bunny doesn’t approve of such operas but I’m sure even he would make an exception for the frivolity of Béatrice et Bénédict.

This production was directed by John Copley and all bar this performance were conducted by Colin Davis. Tonight we had Jane Glover but if you can get a ‘B’ team that’s shortly off to conduct at the Met then you know there’s not really going to be a problem. I have no idea about any differences in interpretation – the orchestra sounded damn good to me and the ovation they received at the end showed I wasn’t alone in thinking so. The staging allowed the overture to be almost completed before the action began on stage and the production made neat use of a simple set up of four pillars, some flowers and assorted townspeople and soldier. The women also looked very fetching in their gowns.

Béatrice et Bénédict is a good choice for allowing singing talent to shine through. It is effectively (or is as presented here) a series of opportunities for beautiful singing linked by some fairly perfunctory plot announcements. Much Ado About Nothing needs an English teacher to explain it you; Béatrice et Bénédict, Berlioz’s adaptation does not. At first they are not in love then they are led by friends to believe the other is in love with them so they decide to fall in love and become happy. There: plot covered. The linking speech was neatly done in Shakespearean and the on-stage acting by all concerned was impressive. As for the singing I’m going to start gushing for they were all magnificent.

Stuart Jackson is rather a large man but his voice has a subtlety that seems all out of proportion and he was very good indeed as Benedict and he was joined in the male roles by Ross Ramgobin and Frederick Long who cut a dashing jib about the stage. Rachel Kelly was beautiful in pretty much every sense as Béatrice and we can guarantee that in the future broadsheet reviewers will swoon over her. Fiona Mackay and Jennifer France as Ursule and Héro respectively were, to my ear, beyond note perfect and deserve particular mention for their act one ending duet. And Nicholas Crawley as the music master will have a career in vaudeville lined up if the opera doesn’t work out – there can be no higher praise.

So, as you can tell, I enjoyed it. This is shaping up to be my favourite place to watch opera being neither too stuffy or uncomfortable and, for opera in London, insanely good value. Next up is a spot of Mozart in March when the evenings will be lighter and warmer but I fully expect to be drawn in once again by the splendid operatic offering indoors.

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