Saturday 9th April, Drayton Arms Theatre, London SW5

Opera in small spaces is not new, though I must admit I only discovered the Drayton Arms Theatre in South Kensington last winter when I attended Euphonia Opera Company’s splendid production of ‘Don Pasquale’. The space really is tiny – a handful of rows of banked benches, upholstered with old pairs of jeans, and an area not much bigger than an average-sized living room for the stage. Covent Garden it ain’t – and much the better for it, for Euphonia is a company of young professional singers who seem to actively relish the challenge of performing in spaces like Drayton Arms Theatre. Their pared-down productions, with the minimum of setting and costumes, and only a digital piano to provide the music, bring the opera right up close and personal.

Euphonia’s 2016 Spring season has included ‘La Traviata’ and a new production of ‘Iphigénie en Tauride’, Gluck’s powerful setting of Euripides’ play. I went with two opera-loving friends,  regulars at ROH and ENO and far more seasoned opera-goers than I. The narrative teeters on the brink of tragedy until almost the very end, when Iphigenia realises that the man held captive and about to be sacrificed is in fact her estranged brother Orestes. All’s well that ends well.

In the tiny space of Drayton Arms Theatre the action was intense and intimate. The singers are only a few feet away and when they sing, you can really feel the air crackle with the power and emotion of their voices. Without the support of elaborate sets and costumes, the action is far more immediate, pulling you into the heart of drama from the outset. When we went downstairs to the noisy pub for the interval, it felt as if we had been yanked out of an alternative reality, and as one of my friends remarked, you realise how removed you are from the action when sitting in the dress circle at the Coliseum. The entire cast sang with passion and commitment. Stand out performances, for me, were by Turiya Haudenhuyse in the title role, and tenor Joseph Doody, who played Pylades.

For those who are less familiar with opera, or who are reluctant to venture into ROH or the Coliseum, Euphonia’s pared down productions are a great introduction to the form. Productions are sung in their original language, with English surtitles, and you can nip down to the pub in the interval for a pint, and take your drink into the theatre.

This season’s productions have also included pre-performance interviews with legendary opera director John Copley CBE (Patron of The Drayton Arms Opera Series) and Euphonia President, the distinguished scientist, broadcaster and author, Professor Robert Winston.

Euphonia Opera Company

It’s not unusual these days to find operas staged in unexpected locations; the plush velvet and gold of the traditional opera house exchanged for something more earthy and – to use a buzzword of the fringe opera movement – accessible. Here Alisdair Kitchen, director of Euphonia Opera, introduces his latest project – ‘Don Pasquale’ in a pub……

Mounting operas in such places has done much to popularise an often-misunderstood art form, and there is something thrillingly visceral about experiencing operatic voices up close. Certain trade-offs are inevitable; large casts must be slimmed-down, choruses cut, and very often the original language altered to a snappy vernacular translation. And of course, there is hardly room for a full orchestra in an intimate venue.

My company – Euphonia (www.euphoniaopera.com) – is venturing into this territory for the first time with Donizetti’s ‘Don Pasquale’ at the Drayton Arms Theatre in South Kensington. We have been honing our craft for the last five years with full-scale productions at the Rye Arts Festival, most recently presenting an ambitious staging of Mozart’s Don Giovanni set on a vintage train [http://www.ryenews.org.uk/culture/don-giovanni-goes-rails]. Donizetti’s sparkling domestic comedy is the first instalment in what will be a regular opera series at The Drayton, with future productions including ‘La Traviata’ and Gluck’s ‘Iphigénie en Tauride’. Legendary opera director John Copley, whom I am privileged to have as a mentor, is Patron of the season.
‘Don Pasquale’ is an absolute gem in the repertoire – a simple yet effective plot rendered in glorious bel canto. It’s intimacy lends itself well to the guiding principal of Euphonia’s work at this theatre, namely to produce chamber versions of operas which are distillations of the original. We hope to concentrate the essence of a work without distorting it. It’s a question of balance – if you take away the orchestra and grand stage resources that operas were conceived with, you have to ensure that the other side of the scale is well-stacked. For instance, there’s something special about the blend of music and words as the composer originally set them; for this reason, we perform in the opera’s original language.

But above all we aim to be entertaining! We have a splendid cast for ‘Don Pasquale’; the title role is something of a speciality for Graham Stone – it’s his tenth production! He is joined by the wonderful emerging vocal talents of Lauren Libaw, Joseph Doody and Christopher Jacklin, all accompanied by Euphonia’s excellent repetiteur Jonathan Musgrave.

‘Don Pasquale’ by Gaetano Donizetti

The Drayton Arms Theatre, 153 Old Brompton Road, London, SW5 0LJ

November 24th, 25th, 27th and 28th at 7.30pm

Autumn 2015 marks the start of a new venture for The Drayton Arms Theatre – an operatic season, presented by our Associate Director for Music and his vibrant young opera company Euphonia (President: Prof. Lord Robert Winston). These co-productions kick-off with Donizetti’s effervescent comedy, ‘Don Pasquale’, sung in Italian, with English surtitles.

After disinheriting his nephew Ernesto (Joseph Doody), wealthy old Don Pasquale (Graham Stone) seeks a wife to produce an heir for his estate. Dr. Malatesta (Christopher Jacklin) sympathizes with Ernesto and devises a crackpot plan to help him regain his inheritance and his true love, Norina (Lauren Libaw). Also featuring Edward Jowle (Notary) and accompanied on the piano by Jonathan Musgrave.

Music and Stage Direction: Alisdair Kitchen

Patron of Opera at The Drayton Arms Theatre: John Copley, CBE

Tickets (£15, £11 concessions) available at www.ticketsource.co.uk/euphonia

For further information about Euphonia and the opera season at the Drayton Arms Theatre, please visit www.euphoniaopera.com.

Delicious pre-theatre dining is available until 7pm Monday to Saturday, two courses for only £10! 
Call 020 7835 2301 to reserve your table.

Praise for Euphonia’s recent Don Giovanni at the Rye Arts Festival: “It was such a joy, and easily a match for anything seen on much grander stages. The superb professional young cast and orchestra assembled by Alisdair Kitchen, the director and conductor, and the driving force behind Euphonia, would grace any auditorium.” – Rye and Battle Observer