The Selfish Giant – Garsington Opera at Wormsley July 2021

Opera Pavilion | Garsington OperaThe lovely big playing space in this lightest, airiest of venues so elegantly (operatically) sited in the leafy undulations of the green and gorgeous Wormsley estate, is quite a setting for a youth opera. And every single one of the 75 young cast members does it justice. So does the team of young stage managers and the young designers who helped find ways of bringing this piece to stage.

This show was originally planned for 2020 but we all know what happened then. In the event it’s a very poignant story for now. The eponymous giant throws the children out of his garden so that they have nowhere to play. Eventually – it’s a one hour piece – he comes to think otherwise and human mixing is restored.

How do you depict a giant on stage convincingly in a fairly simple production? You find a portly singer/actor – Matthew Stiff – with a resonant bass voice, dress him (initially) in black with a flapping raincoat and give him a larger than lifesize model head on a pole to hold – and it’s neatly effective. One of two professional singers in this show, he brings real warmth to the role as his character gradually learns and changes. The other professional is Barbara Cole Walton who plays a linnet, holding a model bird and singing mostly from the top of a ladder. She is gently, smilingly avian and her top notes are quite something.

The other lead is a child – talented Barnaby Scholes – who confronts the giant and looks very effective next to him because he’s small. Barnaby sings treble poignantly. Ultimately his character turns out to be stronger in spirit than body although he achieves his aim. That blend of feistiness and fragility is well captured

But the real high spots in this show are the choruses in which it’s good to see so many boys and an accomplished group of over-18s who sing a couple of choral numbers.

Jessica Duchen’s libretto is clear and unfussy (“The garden looks marvellous. I couldn’t do this alone”) and John Barber’s music is highly evocative. Words and music complement each other. Scored for a small group and played by a six-piece band drawn from the Philharmonia and conducted by Jack Ridley, every note conveys a message. I especially liked the scoring for a winter dance sequence with tinkly discords, faintly reminiscent of Britten, followed by a minor key passage and lots of tambourine.

The whole show, under Karen Gillingham’s practised directorship, is actually a bit of a miracle. Young people have had to audition and rehearse digitally for much of the time with masks and distancing requirements even when they finally got together. The over eighteens didn’t meet each other or the rest of the cast until 5 days before the show. Twenty four hours before curtain up the accordionist was “pinged” so the part had to be rewritten for keyboard tight against the clock.

One always hopes that these enterprising Garsington youth and community operas will live on especially as this one got only a single performance at Wormsley. The good news is that The Selfish Giant, which was co-produced by Opera North, will be staged at Leeds next year.

Susan Elkin

Maya Irgalina at St Luke’s Brighton 13th August 2021

Updated preview since lifting of Covid restrictions

Live Concert, Brighton 13 August, 7.30

Classic cat and mouse? The smiling Brighton audience at Music & Wine at St Luke’s will wonder if two famous cartoon characters have been reincarnated and broken loose around the building. ‘The Tom and Jerry Show’ is the truly novel attraction there in Maya Irgalina’s enterprising live concert there on Friday 13 August (7.30pm).

The show-stopping music piece was written in 2003 by popular young female living jazzy Japanese performer and composer Hiromi Uehara – and it takes a special personality not just to perform but actually to include in a conventional solo piano concert. It reveals to an audience if the virtuoso pianist before them dares perform with their tongue in cheek.

Beethoven definitely had his cheek filled during his Caprice, ‘Rage Over A Lost Penny’, and that’s coming up, too. This is a theraputic programme with an upbeat summer fair or holiday feel, sympathetic to the times.

With Spain among the difficult places to holiday this summer, a definite tapas flavour wafts in from Maya Irgalina. There are atmospheric Andalusian nostalgia and flamenco vibes in Albeniz’ ‘Jerez’ and ‘Triana’ from his quartet of ‘Iberia’ masterpiece books – Jerez the city of sherry, brandy, horses and carriages, and Triana the artsy former gypsy quarter of Seville. And another Spanish connection comes in three Scarlatti Sonatas, composed by an Italian while resident in Madrid.

If it’s a hot evening, Debussy’s ‘Reverie’ will fit extra-perfectly. And on the way towards that ‘Tom and Jerry’ tours de force, Ravel’s Sonatine will turn on cool Parisian suavity to preface two pieces by jazz-blooded Russian composer Nikolai Kasputin – ‘Paraphrase on Aquarela do Brazil by Ary Barros’ (spot the tune) and ‘Jazz Variations’.

Following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, this concert will now have an interval, including wine being served, and admission tickets resuming on sale at the door. See the website for details and check the page showing updated social distancing guidelines.

Maya’s ‘Irgalina’ is not Mediterranean Latino but sounds as “Ear-gar-leaner”. She is from Balarus, and spreads a solo piano career with collaborations performing with outstanding new young classical singers. Among her lockdown engagement casualties were appearances with soprano Kate Royal and the celebrated British cellist Natalie Clein.

Maya is an associated artiste of the Worthing-based International Interview Concerts.

The International Interview Concerts | Facebook

Richard Amey


Summer festivals are always somewhat dependant on the weather playing ball. Last night’s Performance of Iolanthe at the Festival Theatre Hever Castle, enjoyed the perfection of a still summers evening, and Charles Court Opera gave us a most entertaining of renditions.

The fairies were light and playful, while the Lord Chancellor, Richard Stuart, added the weightiness of the judiciary without being dull for one second. His experience as diction coach for the ENO ensured that not a word of the patter songs was lost. No need for surtitles in this performance even if one was not a G&S enthusiast knowing all the words of the whole operetta by heart, as I suspect a lot of the audience were.

The director John Savournin and choreographer Jo Meredith, made sure there were no dull patches with anyone simply standing and singing, though nothing was distracting, upstaging the main action, as can happen. Points of stillness were all the more moving.

The quality of the voices on stage was exceptional throughout. Any performance by this company is not to be missed.

Sally Hick