I’ll always support singer students, especially when they tackle rarely performed work, on the margins of the repertoire. Chekov might not the first writer you think with work transformed into opera, though William Walton and Paul Dehn took the inspired idea of taking one of the Russian writers curious one-act comedies to music.
It works wonders and the score is often alive with a peppery and dynamic nature, Walton’s trademarks a a music maker. It is an absurd story of Widow Popova and the demands of Smirnov, claiming her dead husband owed a lot of Rubles from oat for the estate’s horse. What follows is an hour of heated tension concerning the debt, some stellar insults thrown back and forth and an ending that is silly, though unexpectedly pleasing. More of Chekov’s comedies must be performed today and thanks to The Bear, as I’ve seen what can be possible.
This is grand little version thanks to a trio of emerging singers and pianist. Rebecca Chellappah is the morning widow full of passion and vigour. She come into her own when confronted with Smirnov, with barbed remarks and often boarding on fury. Rebecca’s has a soaring voice which is shown off here to great effect and is perfect for the role. New Zealand singer Brendan Casey is a manic Smirnov, often a strong presence with a bold voice.
Last seen conducting Cardiff Opera’s Julius Cesare, William Stevens here is the servant Luka. Here he puts put with all the nonsense from the invader to the house and is helplessly bound to do nothing about it, serving vodka and allowing this man to loiter within. His voice is deep, with a real sense of character, even as this powerless servant in this situation. Some facial expression made for a few laughs, as he grimaced again and again.
On piano, Phil Blandford makes it all look so easy, with great respect to the score that is new, charming and still accessible. His attention to detail brings out all the quirks and makes you want to hear the full orchestrated version, such is the pull. He has a razor-sharp musicality that never faltered for a moment during the show.
This proved to be a lovely operatic event that was criminally under attended in a marvellous church setting. I would urge those keen to see future work with these players to go at all costs.