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Review: A Night at the Opera, Ugbrooke House

Scores on the doors? Muddy's operatic know-how - Nil points; The Devon Opera Company - 10 out of 10.

Just one Cornetto, give it to meeeee, delicious ice-cream from… Yep, that’s about the level of my opera knowledge so, when I heard The Devon Opera Company were putting on A Night at the Opera in the stunning Catholic chapel of Ugbrooke House, near Chudeleigh, I said verismo!

This wasn’t a performance of a single opera, but a ‘glittering evening of favourites from opera, operetta and songs from the shows’ performed by soprano Natasha Day (who trained at The English National Opera and looked stunning wearing a succession of sparkling evening gowns), bearded tenor Stephen Aviss and non-bearded bass Matthew Palmer. I mention the facial hair, because the programme depicted a fuzz-free Stephen and Matthew with full beard, so it took me a while to work out who was who, though of course, I should have known from the pitch they were singing. I’m easily confused.

The night kicked off with Brindisi from La Traviata, followed by a succession of familiar toons from Italian opera – Rossini’s Largo al factotum (Figaro, Figaro), Puccini, Verdi and a piano solo by the extremely talented accompanist Matthew Schellhorn, who treated us to some very fancy fingerwork.

The singers helpfully explained what was happening in the piece before they sang, and they’re such good actors, it didn’t matter if you hadn’t a clue what they were saying, you got the picture. It was like listening to Classic FM: unless you’re a classical fan you might not know the piece by name, but they were all old familiars.

In the half-hour interval, we popped outside for a cheeky glass and a gander at Ugbrooke House sitting in its elegant Capability Brown landscape. It dates back to the Domesday Book but has had lots of alterations, notably by Robert Adams, and is one of the earliest examples of the ‘toy fort’ style – like a modern castle. It’s open for guided tours from July to September and you can get hitched in that gorgeous chapel and hire it out for your big day.

The wall torches on the way to the loos have a distinctly Games of Thronesy vibe.

The second half kicked off with Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre (Toreador to you and me), a solo from The Merry Widow by Matthew giving it his best Hugh Grant and popular show tunes – sung in operatic style – from West Side Story, South Pacific and Carousel.

The high note for me was Adelaide’s aria from The Enchanted Pig by Dove sung humorously (in English) by Katherine, in full Bride-zilla mode – “I want a tiara, not this thing, I had more sparkle from beads on a string!”. How not to make friends on your wedding day.

The talented trio urged us to join in at the end which seemed a bit of a tall ask, given their range. They took it all with good grace, unpretentiously and with lots of SOH. And it raised money for a great deaf-blind charity called Sense.

All in all, I came away amused, entertained and educated in equal measure, and wondering if it really is possible to shatter a glass with your voice. (The answer is yes, if the note matches the frequency of the glass – they proved it on Mythbusters).

Want to hear more? The Devon Opera are performing The Barber of Seville at Exeter Barnfield Theatre of 7 November and The Great Hall at Dartington on 9 November. Or if you can’t wait that long, they’re available to hire for your own bespoke glittery gala evening.

The Devon Opera, 01626 853502


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