IT will be an all-singing, all-dancing Christmas show this year at the Royal Northern College of Music – Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne.
The college’s opera department, under the leadership of Professor Lynne Dawson and Kevin Thraves, is out to wow audiences with the classic operetta, which will be conducted by Andrew Greenwood (in charge of the award-winning RNCM performances of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream last year) and directed by Stuart Barker, director of training and productions at British Youth Opera.
I had the chance for a peek at rehearsals, as the cast and chorus were on stage learning their steps from choreographer and production assistant Bethan Rhys Wiliam, in the set designed by Simone Romaniuk – cleverly adaptable from being a railway station in Act One to the Moulin Rouge in Act Two (and two other places besides).
Kevin Thraves, RNCM deputy head of opera and chorus master for the show, told me: “Bethan is working on this show full-time now, as it’s a piece that’s full of dancing. It’s a light-hearted French romp, with disguise, mistaken identities, love and infidelity – and everything works out OK in the end, with toasts to Paris and the Parisiens.
“This year is its 150th anniversary, and we’re using the English translation by Alistair Beaton, a writer, satirist and theatre director – he’s translated a number of operas, and this one was originally done for the D’Oyly Carte company in 1995.
“We’re doing six performances this time, with two matinees, and they are selling really well. There are 16 principal roles, and we have double-cast it, so a lot of students get their chance to shine. There are 40 in the chorus, mainly our undergraduates, and around 40 in the RNCM Opera Orchestra.
“RNCM Junior Fellow in Conducting Manoj Kamps is assistant conductor and will take the performance on December 13 himself.
“Stuart Barker is really well used to working with young singers, and he’s doing a lot of improvisation work with the cast and chorus – he likes to draw little stories out of them as they perform.”
Among the principals are singers Alexandra Lowe and Neil Balfour, who have had major roles in RNCM opera before. And the thrill of a show at the college is always that you may see a new star born …
La Vie Parisienne is at the RNCM on December 7, 9, 11 (matinee), 13, 15 and 17 (matinee).