Review: Oberon

Oberon, or The Elf-King’s Oath, is a whimsical and romantic tale brought to life courtesy of the UoY Opera Society. Staged in All Saints’ Church on North Street, Oberon benefits greatly from the grandeur and austerity of its surroundings, especially in marrying the musical and performative aspects of Weber’s opus, but falls short of fully using the space to spin this globetrotting yarn of fey mischief.

Bedecked with metres of fairy-lights and artificial ivy, Oberon‘s makes for an ideal December evening’s entertainment, replete with a smattering of pantomime within the central tale of Huon the French knight’s quest for the love of the Arabian princess Reiza, an adventure set in motion by the machinations of Oberon himself, who along with his chorus of fairy-folk, seeks to reconcile himself with the immortal queen Titania. The less said about the plot the better; this is an opera after all, and the character’s motivations exist all but entirely as an excuse for some rousing arias on the subjects of love, honour and (in the case of Huon’s lustful but lovable squire Sherasmin) wine.

Even more so than musicals, opera (especially amateur opera) is forced to make certain concessions with regard to performance and staging to let the music take precedence, as well it should. Often the competence of the singers was let down by a lack of dramatic conviction, or some dissonance between the content of the scene and the tone being struck by both actor and orchestra: the production had chosen vocal ability above acting, but with opera, creative decisions of its like are understandable. The orchestra (led by Musical Director Josh Griffith) rang confidently throughout the church’s interior, enjoying the marvellous acoustics afforded by its age-old design, and I often enjoyed simply listening to the performance without watching it that intently.

But an opera is not a recital, and Oberon‘s principals (supported by a diverse chorus) delivered a well-tempered performance with clarity; Brianna Louwen and Ollie Kaiper-Leach as the two destined lovers deserve special praise for several standout feats of vocal athleticism. Louwen cuts through the air like a knife through silk, and Kaiper-Leach succeeds in carrying off his role as a quintessential leading man, lending Huon the required stage presence. Their respective companions, Fatima (Emily Hodkinson) and Sherasmin (Thomas Lowen) are a joy to watch (and to hear) cavorting together, having been blessed with the best comic ripostes in the whole piece. Oberon is fortunate indeed to have found in Lowen both a capable singer and a skilled comic actor, for without him the opera would have felt tiresome before the end.

Whilst suffering on several occasions from a lack of confidence (to be expected on opening night), Oberon manages to blend the disparate elements of opera, at the best of time an ambitious creative project. If anything, the piece is held back only by a dearth of imagination in its costume, tone and design; limiting itself to an exceedingly small area of action when the entire church was their’s to exploit. And of course, the wintry conditions were hardly conducive, and those poor chorus members garbed in little more than vests and shorts have my sympathy.

Oberon by Carl Maria Von Weber will be performed tonight at 7:30pm at the All Saints’ Church on North Street. Tickets available on the door