My knowledge of Elton John’s music can be gleaned from teenage parties, Candle in the Wind and the children’s animated film Gnomeo and Juliet. So when I knew that West Bromwich Opera Company were staging a modernized version of the Verdi classic, I wasn’t quite sure what I was letting myself in for. What I did know was that WBOS aim to please and they have picked winners in the past; so I allowed myself to be persuaded.
The first thing to notice was the sparse modern setting. The opening was a museum, made possible by the small tight-knit, beautifully tuned chorus members acting ‘tourist’ all dressed in various pure white casual attire. They gave the stage life, using the steps at the back of the stage to add levels and height. This in turn allowed the simple material canvas and lighting techniques to move and to become the different settings throughout the entire show. The opening number, performed beautifully by Olivia Jones (Amneris), set the high standard for the evening, quickly followed up by Lyndon Flavell who had the right tone of voice to convey the familiar Elton John style as the Egyptian Captain, Radames. The audience fell into the world of the Egyptian capture of the Nubian slaves and was transported with them, back in time into the court of the Pharaoh. John Wetherall’s direction and Claire Flavell’s choreography worked well together ensuring the stage was never dull. Tasheka Coe provided Aida with a soulful voice in the number The Past is Another Land, adding the elements of conflict and rebellion to the story.
The entire cast brought an energy to the show which meant that a balance was achieved with the soft rock ballads and story-telling. In another company’s hands, some of these ballads may have been sluggish, but the music was spot on, thanks to the leading of the Musical Director, Tim Harding and his band.
Before this, I have to admit that I knew none of the numbers in the show. I went away recalling with satisfaction the numbers that really impressed me; Fortune Favours the Brave, My Strongest Suit and the spine tingling ending to act 1 The Gods Love Nubia. And so did we.
The surprising moments of the show came from the humour with which Princess Amneris delivered her lines. Olivia Jones’ timing was impeccable and she helped to add colour to the love story, and showed the Princess as a well-rounded and intelligent character, when she may have been in danger of appearing one sided or flat.
The finale made use of the full circle effect and took the audience right back to the museum, where we started. A love story with a strong beginning, a tense middle and heart tugging ending. I went not knowing what I was going to witness and left glad that I had made the effort. Another fine performance from WBOS.
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