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“New Sussex Opera performed this with utter honesty, starting with Lee Reynolds and his orchestra – in a scoring reduced from Delius’s massive 110 to the 24 members of the young professional Kantanti Ensemble. This was real playing: all Delius’s surprisingly varied textures (even if his falling chromatic motifs get a bit predictable) brought to life by a classy string section, plus really characterful work from solo winds, and Reynolds conducted with a lot of passion and feeling for these heady, eddying vortices of music.

The very engaging lead couple – Kirsty Taylor-Stokes (a really classy, full-bodied voice) and personable Luke Sinclair – had proper chemistry as the droopy, doomed couple Vrenchen and Sali. She sang the arching, spiritual-tinged ‘Ah, the night is approaching’ with spine-tingling delicate beauty, and they both caught the sense of huge passions in little people that Delius does so affectingly. Susanne Waters directed efficiently; perhaps the clothes didn’t have to be quite so realistically bad. I’d never really listened to this piece properly, but it is actually stunning.

*****                                                                            Robert Thicknesse - Opera Now

Every now and then someone unearths a piece by Delius and holds its opaline gorgeousness up to the light to glimmer for a moment before it is shoved back into hiding. The rarity of his music is our loss, and it speaks volumes about the prejudices of the musical herd-mentality over the decades. A Village Romeo and Juliet may be an imperfect treasure, but it’s a treasure nonetheless. The piece is known chiefly today for its heavenly interlude, The Walk to the Paradise Garden. Just imagine that extended to 100 minutes and add voices. 

The effort that has gone into the NSO production is enormous. It includes an arrangement of the lavish score, which normally requires about 110 players, including triple woodwind, for an orchestra of just 24 – the young professional Kantanti Ensemble, conducted by Lee Reynolds – and an updating of some of the stilted original text. The staging by Susannah Waters focuses on the hardship and alienation facing the star-crossed couple: poor Vrenchen as an adult wears implicitly the same hideous frock and green cardi that she had at 11, while the beauty of the Swiss landscape is depicted in the music alone, leaving the stage to desultory wooden pylons, threadbare windmills and a flatpacked house front that is repeatedly erected and demolished.

The opera as a whole rests squarely on the shoulders of its lead soloists. For Vreli and Sali this is a big sing and an emotional rollercoaster. As Vreli, the strong, soaring soprano of Kirsty Taylor-Stokes easily won through, well matched by tenor Luke Sinclair as an ardent and believable Sali. The baritone Ian Beadle as the enigmatic Dark Fiddler was suitably persuasive, making his first entry from a seat in the stalls, where he’d been disguised in a duffle coat. Among fine vignettes, standouts included Geoffrey Moses as Vreli’s father Marti and the two very young singers, Alex Edwards and Nell Parry, who were Sali and Vreli as children. 

Both the amateur chorus and the excellent Kantanti Ensemble gave their all, the latter managing to sound like a much larger concern in The Walk to the Paradise Garden. Though the score really needs its full-scale sumptuousness to make the greatest impact, an exceptionally good wind section helped it to shine.              The Critics’ Circle

Reviews and comments: A Village Romeo and Juliet

New Sussex Opera has garnered a well-deserved reputation for its adventurous exploration of some of the byways of operatic repertoire. Luke Sinclair and Kirsty Taylor-Stokes were an ardent pair of star-crossed lovers, Sali and Vrenchen, and Ian Beadle as the Dark Fiddler rightly dominated the scenes in which he appeared. Robert Gildon and Geoffrey Moses both gave solid accounts of the two rival fathers, Manz and Marti and as the bargemen in the final scene, and Alex Edwards and Nell Parry made a good impression in their portrayals of the young Sali and Vrenchen in the first scene. The amateur NSO Chorus sang firmly in the wedding dream scene and in the scene at the fair, where it also furnished a host of cameo roles as vendors and punters. Bachtrach

“A distinguished performance, starting out with a blustery, purposeful manner, and unfolding each scene with considerable sweep and brio.”

Ian Beadle convincingly embodied the elusive Dark Fiddler with lyrical and quiet lustre as the Gurnemanz-like character who tries to persuade the young innocents of a life of vagabondage, away from the petty strife. It was a neat dramatic stroke to have him make his first appearance by appearing from the theatrical no-man’s-land behind the audience. The dry-ice and Jai Morjaria’s atmospheric lighting certainly added a brooding presence to the drama.”      Classical Source

**** A brave attempt to bring Delius' problematic but intriguing opera to stage life

I found the production highly atmospheric…the way Susannah Waters make the chorus members a constant presence was a strong plus point in focusing the drama. KirstyTaylor-Stokes combined a spinto-ish cutting edge with an ability to spin Delius' endless line. She could not make it sound completely effortless, but brought a nice intensity to the part and created a sense of Vreli's doomed soulfulness. Luke Sinclair is quite a find, a young tenor who combines a commandingly tall physique with an admirably secure tenor voice. His voice is also rather more robust than lyrical, and a brought a sense of vigour and action to Delius' vocal line. Lacking was the ideal fluid flexibility of line, instead Sinclair gave us strong personality, commitment and a fine sense of energy and stamina (it is a pretty big sing).

Ian Beadle made a rather wistful Dark Fiddler, emphasising the character's vagabond nature and the seductive idea of otherness, rather than mining the sense of mythic strangeness which can also apply to the character.

Robert Gildon and Geoffrey Moses made strong work of the small roles of the children's father, who develop their dispute over as strip of land into something all consuming. The smaller roles were all characterfully sung and the chorus entered with a will into Waters' concept and really created a sense of community on stage.

I have great admiration for New Sussex Opera's dramatic achievements with the work, and the way Lee Reynolds drew some fine textures from his players and strong performances from his soloists. And I am extremely glad that the company braved the opera's reputation to give us a chance to experience it on stage.                Robert Hugill

Tim Ashley -The Guardian


“An admirably ambitious production”.   Opera Today

“Fine playing from the ensemble under Lee Reynolds.” Luke Sinclair sings Sali with a sense of style and frequent lyrical beauty. There was an excellent programme – not always the case with smaller companies”.     Lark Review

“Lee Reynolds’s reduced scoring has been achieved with no little skill: as his sympathetic conducting also showed, he has a real feeling for this music.”          Seen and Heard International

“The production solved some almost impossible problems with great imagination and sympathy”.

 Lionel Friend

“The conductor Lee Reynolds had reduced the scoring to less than a quarter of its sumptuous full strength, for the 24-strong Kantanti Ensemble. Interestingly, while swooning strings were not on the menu, the reduction exposed the skill and sinew underpinning Delius’s music, while Reynolds’s conducting proved that there is more sense of progress in the music than you might otherwise have given Delius credit for.

The vocal lines still sounded added on rather than integral, but the Wagner-inspired leitmotifs made their mark. Reynolds had also moved back to an earlier scene a narration by the Dark Fiddler (a semi-supernatural figure who lures the lovers to follow their desires), which made better dramatic sense. The chorus of narrow-minded mountain people and, in the Paradise Garden scene, siren-like hippy vagabonds dealt luminously with Delius’s thick choral writing and took on a number of minor roles in the village fair scene.

As Sali, Luke Sinclair’s ardour had a Pelleas-like directness. There is an edge and mobility to his tenor that would work well in Janacek, and he looked suitably innocent. Kirsty Taylor-Stokes characterized the more complicated Vrenchen from hesitant start to soaring oblivion convincingly, and her strong soprano merged well with Sinclair’s tenor in the duets. Ian Beadle’s baritone had the right darkness and amplitude for the Dark Fiddler and his words at least were good. The direction could have made him much more other-worldly, but he was a strong presence nonetheless. Despite their meandering music, Robert Gildon and Geoffrey Moses delivered a strong portrayal of the two fathers. In the original stage direction, the lovers drown when Sail pulls the plug from the bottom of their barge. Here they slit each other’s wrists. Either way, it is love-death by leaking.”

Peter Reed - Opera