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For the ensemble of miners, Grange Park Opera assembled a strong group of young singers, some members of their regular choral ensemble, led by the fine Sonora of Quentin Hayes. Richard Coxon as Nick the barman came fresh from his performances in the previous night's Pilgrim's Progress at Sadlers Wells. For those of us familiar with the Royal Opera House production, the role of Nick is forever associated with the veteran tenor Francis Egerton. Coxon created a rather younger, slyer Nick; one who could be believably in love with Minnie himself. Tim Dawkins played the important role of Ashby the Wells Fargo agent, though I thought his performance could have done with a little more swagger.

But it is the role of Minnie which really piques the interest of the reviewer. Grange Park Opera took no chances and cast the experienced dramatic soprano Cynthia Makris. A number of reviewers have complained about the unvarying loudness of Makris' delivery. It must be admitted that at times her performance was rather loud, but it must be understood that this is often a loud score. Puccini orchestrated it richly and heavily so that the voices have much with which to compete.

In this context it is perhaps wise to consider a salutary story told by the mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne. When a young singer working in Germany she was offered the role of Minnie; she looked at the vocal score and worked out that it was viable providing she took the upper notes easily and lightly. She had not allowed for Puccini's thick orchestration and reckoned that much of her performance would have been inaudible as she dare not risk her voice competing with the orchestra.

So, to a certain extent, we must give Cynthia Makris the benefit of the doubt. Her upper notes did have a rather unvarying quality and her voice tended to spread when above the stave, but she could sing quietly and beautifully in her lower registers. She managed to make Minnie a convincing mix of naivety and toughness. It helps that Makris is tall so that the image of her as a gun-toting Amazon was quite believable.

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Copyright © 26 June 2008 Robert Hugill, London UK


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