New Sussex Opera, 5 De Warrenne Road, Lewes, Sussex BN7 1BP

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Suzy Klein on In Tune, BBC Radio 3: New Sussex Opera does have this kind of knack of latching onto brilliant talented people who are absolutely on the way up and about to be snatched by major houses, so you do a very good number in pro directors, professional conductors, professional players and community choruses...

“Territory that none of the big guns would have dared approach: Victoria Simmonds sang warmly as the gamine Mignon, nicely contrasted with Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson’s Philine, who scintillated effortlessly through the coloratura of “Je suis Titania”. Definitely something that will delight…”

The Telegraph

****

“The chorus demonstrated again just why they are the backbone of the New Sussex Opera with their performance of the 19th century opera, Mignon at Lewes Town Hall on Wednesday.

The 35 strong group demonstrated their professionalism and love of opera with fearlessness and commitment and provided worthy support for the career singers in the starring roles.


Ruth Jenkins-Robertsson was compelling in the role of Philine – actress and man eater – and Ted Schmitz gave a powerful performance in the heroic role of Wilhelm Meister who rescues Mignon, played by the versatile Victoria Simmonds, from a Berlin nightclub.


St Paul’s Sinfonia were an added bonus. The London orchestra comprised of performers on virtually every instrument from wind and brass to harp, bassoon and timpani.


The evening show-pieced how gifted and dedicated singers can combine with professionals to deliver polished opera in unlikely places.

     

If you want passionate singing in a light hearted Victorian style melodrama with a happy ending, don’t miss this"

The Argus

Reviews of Mignon

“Superb and very good looking costumes.

I was hugely impressed by Ruth Jenkins-Robertsson as Philine.  .”Je suis Titania” appeared to hold no terrors for her and she provided just the right frivolous glamour

Victoria Simmonds sang her arias and the duets very well indeed – clear diction and vocally sounding just right.

Christopher Diffey made an elegant, amusing Laertes who managed the dialogue very well and injected some life into the proceedings whenever he was onstage.  Jason Crook as the ghastly circus owner, Jarno, was very good too.”

Opera Notes


“We were treated to two exceptional voices in Victoria Simmonds (Mignon) and Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson (Philine), with a warm tenor Laertes from Christopher Diffey, and a generally capable Lothario from baritone Adrian Powter, blessed with lovely tone. We also had an enthusiastic orchestra in the St Paul’s Sinfonia, conducted with great energy by Nicholas Jenkins through the wafting sweeps of Thomas’ score, which sounds exactly as you would expect. The exception is Philine’s extraordinary, dazzling Titania aria, which blazes like a Roman candle of originality.


Fun scenery from designer Eleanor Wdowski consisted mainly of a series of differently sized trunks, some large enough to act as doors and others small enough to be tables, with judicious use of tablecloths and dust sheets to disguise them into other things when required. The Chorus looked the part in their sumptuous period 1920s costumes. It was all nicely done. Director Harry Fehr’s finest moment was undoubtedly Titania's aria, delivered with bravura energy by Jenkins-Róbertsson with well-observed, amusing choreography as she rejected all the men on stage in favour of an unknowing Wilhelm; and the chorus, in Fehr’s hands, also created spectacular tableaux in café and theatre scenes.”  

Bachtrack

****

Ambroise Thomas’s Mignon was one of the most popular operas of the 19th century, clocking up more than 1,000 performances in Paris alone in the decades immediately following its 1866 premiere at the Opéra Comique. Based on Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, it deals with burgeoning sexuality in a transient world. The waif-like heroine Mignon has unspoken feelings for the feckless Wilhelm, which ripen into love, jealousy and a growing awareness of her own femininity when she is faced with his attraction to the promiscuous actress Philine. Twenty-first-century taste is apt to find it coy, and some may now question its conservative stance on gender, but the score has a sad, elegant beauty that remains immensely appealing.

Harry Fehr’s striking staging for New Sussex Opera reimagines the work in terms of the hedonism and existential uncertainties of Weimar Republic Berlin, where Mignon’s boyish persona, defensively adopted as a response to childhood trauma, is taken for granted by a society that ignores her underlying heartbreak, and where she can only find genuine solace in her relationship with the half-crazed tramp Lothario, who, by a twist of fate, proves to be her long-absent father.

There are superb central performances from Victoria Simmonds as Mignon and Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson as Philine. Simmonds, a fine singer-actor, makes Mignon’s anguish entirely credible in an interpretation that is all the more moving for being handled with unsentimental restraint. Jenkins-Róbertsson nicely conveys Philine’s manipulative self-aggrandisement, and her coloratura is simply dazzling. Ted Schmitz is the occasionally effortful Wilhelm, Adrian Powter the dark-voiced, touching Lothario. Nicholas Jenkins conducts with great sensitivity and an admirable sense of Thomas’s often elusive style.

Tim Ashley -The Guardian


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