Brighton Festival –  What’s So Great About Opera? Hilary Summers & Andrew West

I read the advertisement twice, carefully, and still had no idea what to expect, but hey, it’s the Brighton Festival and only lasts an hour, what could go wrong?

A statuesque dame took the stage, commanding our attention with a suitably enormous grin and a massive contralto chuckle. She brazenly proposed her idea that opera could be boring! For the remaining hour she proved, to those with ears to hear, that it could be great fun and surprisingly musical. I feared some six-foot-two hybrid of Joyce Grenfell and Florence Foster Jenkins. Well, she had all the wit of the one and the hutzpah of the other.

Only a well-balanced singer, fully acquainted with all the tricks and foibles of the opera world, could have prepared and delivered this virtuoso confection. All manner of productions, from Monteverdi to Birtwistle and beyond, were demonstrated with disturbing accuracy. The parlour entertainment turned into a music hall act and then into something much more grand, a representation of Mozart’s sublime Singspiel, ‘The Magic Flute’ in twenty-five minutes.


Hilary Summers

The Studio Theatre, jam-packed, stuffy and steamy after just ten minutes, was possibly too small for her talent. Silk shawls, lank wigs and feathery bits were now too sticky for any quick changes. However, there were no embarrassing silences because, alongside the audience guffaws, collaborator, arranger and pianist extraordinaire Andrew West was there ready to fill any gaps. Summers had no trouble with mimicking Sarastro’s bass resonances and she coped well with nearly all of the Queen of the Night’s fabled high notes – just the very top, stratospheric F had to be patched in on the piano. As the exuberant final chorus was played out, the exhausted prima donna took her many bows and plaudits, so very well deserved!

Brighton Dome Studio Theatre,
8 May 2024


Andrew Connal

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