Until the recent ENO production of Castor and Pollux, the French baroque master Jean-Philippe Rameau has been sadly absent from the British operatic scene. He is better known on this side of the Channel as a virtuoso harpsichordist and his operas receive none of the attention that they do in France. While the ENO deserves all its plaudits for bringing this composer to national attention, UCOpera is going one better, performing a fully staged production of his 'pastorale héroique' Acante et Céphise, which will be the first in Britain and quite possibly anywhere in the world since the 18th Century.
The story deals with the eponymous pair of lovers who are beset by the jealous genie Oroès and protected by the fairy Zirphile, in a story that recounts their separation and banishment to remote and exotic locations. Rameau does not disappoint; the work is brimming with catchy tunes, baroque flourishes and a vivid orchestral score to match the setting and pace of action onstage.
The opera company of University College London has, since its founding in 1951, performed three World and 18 British Premieres and is renowned for bringing back into public view works which have for too long lain neglected or undiscovered. The orchestra and chorus are entirely made up of UCL students, but unusually for a university opera company UCOpera uses young professional singers as principals and as such enjoys a reputation for the quality of the voices on offer. However, the limelight is not restricted to the professionals, as a few of my lucky friends are going to be singing some of the smaller solo roles in front of the audience at the Bloomsbury Theatre.
As the rehearsal schedule heats up, the cast have just been measured for costumes and will be beginning full production rehearsals without scores in the next two weeks. The music is great fun to sing, with many of us enjoying the marvels of baroque ornamentation (and opera!) for the first time. So for a rare performance of a work that will be relatively unknown even to aficionados, join us in March for an evening of discovery, magic and fantastic music.
UCOpera will be performing Acante et Céphise at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London on the 19, 21, 23 and 24 March 2012 at 7.30pm.