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2019-20 Concert Reviews

Mid-Wales Opera's reworking of  John Gay's Beggar's Opera in the Shropshire Music Season left me with a dilemma. If a docile young woman of the eighteenth century can selfishly refuse to murder her husband when her mother expressly asks her to, what hope that the self-centred young woman of today will help me out if I need her for some similarly murderous purpose? Must I refrain from asking my daughter to murder my son-in-law? Must I dispose of him myself? Come to think of it: Graham, you have been warned.

You might think it impossible to recreate the sense of shock and pleasure that greeted John Gay's funny and utterly immoral satire when it opened in London in 1728, but Mid Wales Opera's reworking of Gay's piece succeeds brilliantly. They focus on the  relationship between the appalling Mrs Peachum and her romantic daughter Polly, drawing out the best of Gay's cynical lines about love and marriage. The spare accompaniment – piano, violin, bassoon and percussion – drew the piece together beautifully, weaving musical themes through the popular songs of the period – and the singing was superb. Carolyn Dobbin was disturbingly likeable as Mrs Peachum, Alys Roberts made a perfect Polly and Johnny Hereford an excellent foil as Filch, the beggar.

It was also good to have a second half, when these three singers could show off their wonderful lyric voices. Carolyn Dobbin sang She Walks through the Fair unaccompanied and it was about as pure and controlled as a song can be; Alys Roberts sang one of Suzanna's arias from Figaro beautifully; and as for Johnny Hereford and the Armadillo Song - any time Johnny Hereford opens his mouth to sing, women swoon in ecstacy.

All in all, I came out of the concert morally debased but musically uplifted. Now where did I put my mobile phone: ‘Graham, is that you? I'll be over shortly.’

Bob Fowke

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