Hastings Philharmonic Opera Gala

St Mary in the Castle, Hastings, 7 July 2018

With the England team victory earlier tin the day there was much to celebrate that evening, and all the more encouraging then that Hastings Philharmonic was coming to the end of a wonderfully successful season.

If they were letting their hair down just a little it was rarely at the expense of the music, which came across with bold authority throughout.

Though billed as an Opera Gala the first sung items – after an intriguing overture from Francis Rayner – were three songs from Guestling Bradshaw School Choir under their Musical Director Nathan Cline. If there was more enthusiasm than clarity, they gave us an impressively complex rendition of Britten’s Old Abram Brown, and a heartfelt This is me.

Turning to opera, the extracts were essentially based on large choral numbers, though even Hastings Philharmonic Choir would have difficult matching Aida in Verona. In the event the balance proved to be very strong and the male voices cut through with aplomb in the three Verdi choruses. It was a pity not to have anvils for Il Trovatore – maybe this could have been delegated to the audience?

Marcio da Silva regularly manages to disarm us, and on this occasion it was in the Te Deum from Tosca. Expecting the bass to sing Scarpia, I am sure I was not alone to gasp when Marcio turned to us and sang at his most malevolent, the viciously corrupt lines from Scarpia before he turns to pray with the chorus. I suspect the chorus may have been as taken aback as we were, for they totally lost their entry, but Marcio was able to recover the timing with ease and the final bars radiated as they should.

The three soloists brought very different accomplishments. Turkish bass Vedat Dalgiran gave us an impressive Sorastro and Boris, and the only less familiar item in the programme, Il lacerato Spirito from Simone Boccanegra. Tenor Leonel Pinheiro has a strong beat to his voice but his heroic enthusiasm in Nessun Dorma coupled with a magnificent Vincero at the end, carried all before him. Of course the linking of Nessun Dorma to the world cup was not lost on this audience.

Soprano Lin Westcott seems to go from strength to strength, giving us a lyrical reading of the Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana and a gently moving Vilja ­– for which we were all invited to join in the chorus.

Francis Rayner accompanied throughout from the piano, joined by Debbie Warren on keyboard. If this produced some interesting effects, it was particularly helpful in the many religious items.

It has been a splendid year and the plans for 2018-19 look equally encouraging, with the opening concert of the new season at St Mary in Castle on Friday 12 October.