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Writing an opera is a massive undertaking, defining characters and complementing lyrics with scoring, but success is surely measured in whether the performance reaches out to the audience, holding them till the final curtain. The feeling and sentiment of War Hero, based on the play by Michael Galvin, certainly made its mark on Saturday’s large opening night audience.
A conscious objector, Scroggs Hill farmer Archibald Baxter, received his call-up and War Hero covers his stoic defiance to serve, as he is shipped to England, mercilessly treated and forced on to the battlefield.
New-Zealand-born tenor Andrew Glover’s characterisation of this central figure carried the entire work, with excellent support from a talented all-male cast of 10 sharing the large selection of supporting roles in solos, intricate contrapuntal ensemble numbers and tight chorus harmony such as For King and Country.
Supporting Glover were Matt Landreth, Alex Lee, Murray Davidson, Mark Wrigglesworth, Nathaniel Otley, Ridge Ponini, Antonio Della Barca, Robert Lindsay, Simon Anderson and Chris Lovell-Smith. Drummond tends to write challenging music for voice with large, uncomfortable leaps between registers, technically demanding for the singer, and often creating stark colouring to which the listeners’ ears eventually become accustomed.
Vincent Hardaker (Wellington) conducted four keyboard players and two percussionists (ominous military drumbeats often featured), who coped well with the passages of dissonance and a contrasting Intermezzo between Acts 2 and 3.
Brenda Rendall attended to authenticity of uniforms, and staging was sparse, compensated by many relevant projected backdrops. Battle scenes with barbed wire barricades and audio were poignantly effective and emotional, but there were moments of humour — We want to know what makes you tick, tick, tick!
Opera Otago continues this centenary of WW1 commemoration until next Saturday.
- Elizabeth Bouman
• Mayfair Theatre, Saturday, July 22