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Bramhall Arts Festival 1996
Puccini achieved a perfect blend of the carefree and the tragic in ‘La Boheme’. Its beautiful arias and vivid impressions of bohemian life in 1830’s Paris are the main ingredients making this opera one of the all time favourites. Puccini wanted there to be as much singing, as much melody as possible and that he succeeded is borne out by his fellow composer Debussy, “If one did not keep a grip on oneself one would be swept away by the sheer verve of the music”.
Feelgood’s production stayed true to Puccini and created a production that broke down barriers, introduced all comers new to the sheer joy - and tragedy of opera. Not only did the beautiful Tudor courtyard of Bramall Hall provide the ‘al fresco’ setting for Feelgood’s first opera but the drawing room served as the rehearsal room giving visitors the added treat of seeing a professional team at work as they visited the hall.
The production was very intimate with the audience having a very close up experience of opera. It was sung in Italian with piano accompaniment and no chorus which added focus and made the drama all the more powerful.
The three-sided courtyard provided wonderful acoustics and part set, characters popping out of the hall’s windows and doors. The additional set was designed by Allison Clarke in conjunction with the design workshop at Manchester College of Arts and Technology (MANCAT) who built three structures - a garret in the Latin Quarter - Cafe Momus and a Tavern- that sat within the courtyard. Rather than the audience promenading as in previous productions, the singers promenaded. The audience sat within the Cafe Momus, on cushions a few feet away or on raked covered seating creating the fourth wall of the performance space. The audience capacity was 250 and it sold out for the run.
A free open dress rehearsal gave the local community an opportunity to sit and enjoy a first class opera - many for the first time - in a totally relaxed and informal manner. Children as young as 3 danced in the courtyard and many who had simply stumbled upon the rehearsal then joined the audiences over the weekend to enjoy a picnic on the lawn, and a stunning production. Opera workshops open to all were held during the day, local artists mingled with the audience drawing as they went and the whole project was a major triumph.
Carolyn Hargreaves (Soprano - Mimi, a seamstress), Lorna Rushton (Soprano - Musetta, a grisette), Mark Luther (Tenor - Rodolfo, a poet), Rolo Wood (Bass - Colline, a philosopher), Peter Mulloy (Baritone - Schaunnard, a musician), Nigel (Bass - Alcindoro, Musett’s admirer), Guy Warburton (Benoit, landlord), Kathy Beeching (Artist), Trish Henderson (Artist), Vic Haulks (Artist).
Caroline Clegg (Producer/Director), Robin Humphreys (Musical Director/Accompanist), Allison Clarke (Design), MANCAT (Design and Construct).
“...it was a first for Stockport, a first for Bramall, the launch of a festival and a definite hit for Feelgood… plenty of enterprises try to be the Glyndebourne of the North but Feelgood Theatre Productions at Bramall Hall with picnic lawn and view gave an exciting beginning to a festival that could grow and grow… the feel good factor was extremely high and there cannot be many productions were the artists of the latin quarter paint before your very eyes!...” - Manchester Evening News
“...those bitten by the opera bug couldn’t have failed to enjoy this unpretentious and thoroughly accomplished version of Puccini’s opera...” - Metro News