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Malcolm Arnold Festival

The Dancing Master

Malcolm Arnold Festival at the Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton, October 20
Such is the fame of The Country Wife that William Wycherley's other three Restoration Comedies generally get sidelined, and his play The Gentleman Dancing Master (1671) is a rather stitched-together work, short on the plot integration achieved by some of his contemporaries. The same partially applies to Malcolm Arnold's one-act opera The Dancing Master (1952), with a libretto by Joe Mendoza based on Wycherley's play and written during a successful period in the composer's career. But to have an opera from Malcolm Arnold at all, let alone one as competent as this, is quite a treat (another, The Open Window, based on a Saki story, was also finished.)

Yet what this spirited undertaking - the focus of the Arnold biographer Paul Harris's annual Arnoldfest in the composer's birthplace - showed was that The Dancing Master could easily sparkle on stage. There's a medley of styles from the ultimate musical pasticheur of his generation. Among the young and lovely cast, the highest performance marks should go to Jessica Gillingwater, a mite overbearing perhaps as the put-upon heroine Miranda, but easily the one whose words came over the best. Stuart Overington was the sexy boyfriend who poses as a dance guru to worm his way into where he should not be, and with a histrionic Hispanic paterfamilias (Stefan Berkieta), a vocally-attractive French-tenor suitor (William Davies) and hints of a glowing mezzo from the fussy aunt Mrs Caution (Lucilla Graham), the other vocal contributions were often rather good. John Gibbons and his Ealing Symphony Orchestra provided excellent support.


Opera, January 2013

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Paul Harris, Director, Tel: 01280 813144 Email: