Chalmers, Nicholas


Bear

William Walton - The Bear

NI Opera, 2013 | Nicholas Chalmers, Oliver Mears, Anna Burford, Andrew Rupp, John Molloy | The MAC, Belfast - 26 March 2013

There was quite a change of content, style and scale between NI Opera’s last production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman for the Grand Opera last month and their production of William Walton’s short one-act chamber opera The Bear, performed at the smaller arts theatre of the MAC in Belfast. Directed again by Oliver Mears with Nicholas Chalmers conducting, The Bear at least conformed to Wagner’s preference to have the orchestra and conductor remaining invisible to the audience, but that’s about the only level on which The Bear can be compared to Wagner. Walton’s work was far from the most challenging NI Opera production then and the merits of the work itself are questionable, but in terms of the approach adopted for this lightly humorous work, it was everything it should be.

Based on a comic short play by Chekhov, ‘The Bear‘ is not one of the Russian master’s more notable works that stand as masterpieces of the dramatic repertoire like ‘The Cherry Orchard‘, ‘The Seagull‘ or ‘Three Sisters‘. It’s one of Chekhov’s earlier comedies that has its own peculiarly Russian sense of humour and it is also rather dated by today’s standards. Walton’s opera version of the work, written in 1967, is an almost identical word-for-word adaptation that retains the pace, the dynamic and the tone of the original work, with its comic interplay operating effectively between just three characters.

The comedy revolves around the widow Yeliena Ivanovna Popova who has been in mourning for her dead husband Nicolai Mihailovich for almost a year now. That’s a period of grieving that is regarded as most unseemly by her footman Luka, who wept over the death of his old lady for a month - but seven? Well, the old woman wasn’t worth that and surely no-one is, not even Nicolai Mihailovich. Yeliena Popova moreover is still young and there’s a whole regiment of troops billeted in a nearby district, so Luka don’t know what all the fuss is about. It’s a middle-aged landowner Grigory Stepanovitch Smirnov however who makes an impression when he appears at the household trying to recover one of her husband’s debts, but the road to courtship is not without some trouble along the way.

The Bear, as the title might suggest, is very much as a parody on distinctly extreme Russian qualities and characteristics involving drinking vodka (the name Smirnov obviously gets an extra laugh here), running up debts, extravagant mourning, headlong plunges into deep emotions and fiery outbursts of temper that lead to duels. It may not be one of Chekhov’s most insightful serious works, and the farcical humour might appear to be slightly dated, but the manner and the truth of the characteristics he exposes through this short comic situation are no less precise and revealing. It’s hard to fault Walton’s take on the work either other than on similar questions of musical fashion and personal taste. It’s a genuinely comic score of a kind that is all too rarely heard, perfectly matching the tone of the drama, with jaunty rhythms and tooting instruments, extending ‘ooohh!’s and expressions of despair to the point where they do indeed become funny - but it’s all very much in a music-hall kind of idiom. It’s pleasant and entertaining but by no means a great work.

Obviously however with a small cast, a chamber score and a situation with plenty of dramatic incident, there is ample compensation in the opportunities The Bear provides in the performance of the musicians and the singers. That depends very much of course upon the director and the conductor working together to the rhythms and the pace of the work and with the solid team of Oliver Mears and Nicholas Chalmers there are no problems there. All of the singers moreover are simply marvellous. John Molloy, a Wexford regular, is something of an expert on rare material, particularly those with comic interplay, and he’s excellent here as Smirnov. The other young members of the cast are just as impressive, Andrew Rupp’s Luka getting the best laughs, but it’s Anna Burford ’s Yeliena Popova who has to carry much of the work’s comedy and singing challenges and she does so exceptionally well, never faltering in even some of the more testing situations.

One of only two operatic works written by William Walton (the other being Troilus and Cressida, written in 1954), The Bear might not be one of the greatest or most challenging opera works, but it is designed to be lightly entertaining and funny and NI Opera’s production certainly brought out those qualities. You can’t ask for more than that. NI Opera’s production of The Bear at the MAC in Belfast was programmed with five Songs and Sonnets from Shakespeare in beautiful jazz-influenced musical and choral arrangements by George Shearing (1919-2011).

DutchmanRichard Wagner - The Flying Dutchman

NI Opera, 2013 | Nicholas Chalmers, Oliver Mears, Bruno Caproni, Giselle Allen, Stephen Richardson, Paul McNamara, Adrian Dwyer, Doreen Curran | Grand Opera House, Belfast, 15th & 17th February 2013

The outcome was never really in doubt. NI Opera’s award-winning track record has been impressive since their inception two years ago, the scale and calibre of the works presented increasingly ambitious, from Menotti’s The Medium and Puccini’s site-specific Tosca in Derry through to newly commissioned work for NI Opera Shorts and a production of Noye’s Fludde that travelled to Beijing. Putting on a Wagner opera however is a challenge on another scale entirely. Even if Der Fliegende Holländer is one of the composer’s shorter works, it is scarcely any less demanding in the very specific orchestral and singing requirements that are quite different from the popular aria-driven Italian opera.

Admittedly however, while the First Act of the English language version of The Flying Dutchman was capably performed here at the Grand Opera House in Belfast - the first ever fully-staged performance of the work in Northern Ireland - it did feel a little flat. Something was missing. Still, no cause for immediate concern. The First Act of The Flying Dutchman is quite difficult, the stormy overture a prelude to a gloom-laden hour of long passages of deep, grave male singing - mostly basses and baritones - as the dark figure of the Dutchman recounts the horror of his curse, doomed to sail the seas for eternity, finding land again after seven years in the vain hope that the love of a good and faithful woman will set him free. There’s not a whole lot of light and shade here, much less dramatic action and, even with the familiarity now of Wagner’s brilliant leitmotifs and their hints of what is to come, it’s always been a fairly demanding opening sequence.

Like much of Wagner though you just have to bear with it, as the forthcoming rewards more often than not merit the long drawn-out pacing and slow development of situations. (And yes, I realise that this review seems to be adopting the same principle - long-windedly positing doom and gloom with the promise of redemption to come). That’s because Wagner has a secret weapon in reserve for the Second Act, which is the arrival of Senta. It’s a device that Wagner would unleash in a more fluid manner in the revised version of the opera - played straight through with linking sections and no breaks between acts - but if you listen carefully she’s there in a leitmotif during the Vorspiel to Act One. Recognising this, NI Opera’s production did indeed effectively and with musical validity try to lift the First Act by bringing forward Senta’s first appearance to the dreamily melancholic Senta leitmotif in the overture, the young woman walking across a stormy shoreline as the snow starts to fall. And it even sounded to me like conductor Nicholas Chalmers wrung an extra ounce of romantic sensitivity out of the Ulster Orchestra during this sequence. Despite the dramatic shortcomings then and musical unevenness of the weighty first Act (Daland and the Dutchman’s duet sounding like something that has wandered in from an Italian opera) with a staging was unable to give it any kind of boost, this nonetheless boded promisingly for what was to come.

We had to wait until after the interval then for the deployment of Wagner’s incendiary device, but NI Opera clearly also had one or two secret weapons of their own in their armoury to ensure that this Dutchman took flight. One was the remarkable performance of Giselle Allen as Senta, the other was the energetic drive and virtuosity of the Ulster Orchestra. OK, nothing there that will really come as any great surprise to those of us familiar with the qualities Northern Ireland’s finest, but the way they were brought into play was impressive nonetheless. You could virtually hear a sigh of relief from the audience as the curtain lifted on what looked like a church assembly hall in the 1970s - a bright, colourful scene-shift from the gloom of Act One - where the ladies sat spinning at their Singer sewing machines, the beauty of the assembled female voices soaring with optimism and hope that the sea would deliver the safe return of their men.

Doreen Curran’s glowering Mary wonderfully kept the proceedings from getting too cheery, but it was of course the ringing tones of Giselle Allen’s Senta whose romantic spinning of the tale of the cursed captain and his crew dominated and directed the whole tone of the Second Act. Responding to the urgings of her fellow seamstresses, this Senta did indeed seem to be possessed by a demon, sitting down and seeming to slip into a trance as she recounted the myth of the Flying Dutchman. Much as Chalmers managed to place some emphasis on the Vorspiel’s dreamy Senta leitmotif, stage director Oliver Mears similarly allowed Senta’s romanticism to invade the whole work whenever she was present, allowing the necessary spell to be woven that would make the Dutchman’s arrival - and the long silent gaze that lies between them - all the more dramatic. Retaking the same positions into this locked gaze after their duet, it was as if the romanticism of the encounter takes place in more in Senta’s head than in reality.

Dramatically then, as well as in the all-important delivery of the exceptional singing demands that are necessary to make this work convincingly, NI Opera’s The Flying Dutchman succeeded at least in finding the right tone. It even allowed for one or two moments of humour to sit well alongside all the weighty recounting of ancient legends, such as Senta’s father Daland approving of the couple making each other’s acquaintance while they are in the middle of a hot-and-heavy, passionate, sweeping-everything-off-the-table kind of entanglement on the nearest available substitute for a bed. Quite why the setting of the seventies was chosen however wasn’t entirely clear. There didn’t appear to be any real attempt to connect the legend of the Dutchman to the Troubles, even if there is a certain amount of recognition of Belfast’s history as a port and ship-building city. There’s no obligation of course for NI Opera to make every local production site-specific, and attempting to do so with Wagner could lead to some ill-advised and ill-fitting parallels that would never work convincingly (Senta a militant activist waiting for the delivery of an arms shipment? The homeless “Dutchman” seeking to rid himself of the curse of his nation’s occupation?), so perhaps allowing the work to speak for itself in the 70s is enough. It certainly worked on those terms alone.

Well, not quite alone. Both the male and the female choruses were in wonderful voice and with the driving accompaniment of the orchestra, their powerful contribution to the impact of the overall work was well directed and delivered. Crucially however there were also solid performances from the main roles in Bruno Caproni’s brooding Dutchman and Giselle Allen’s obsessive Senta. The Belfast soprano sustained a magnificent tension right the second act and the close of the third, a veritable Senta-bomb that exploded on the stage of the Grand Opera House in a blood-drenched death scene climax of nerve-shattering high notes. If my own reaction is anything to go by, the audience were surely gasping for breath by that point. If you can’t achieve that kind of impact doing Wagner though, there’s really no point even attempting it, but when you have Giselle Allen and the Ulster Orchestra at your disposal and operating on the kind of form shown here, there was never likely to be any serious concern about the outcome.

Benjamin Britten - The Turn of the Screw

NI Opera, 2012 | Nicholas Chalmers, Oliver Mears, Fiona Murphy, Andrew Tortise, Giselle Allen, Yvonne Howard, Lucia Vernon, Thomas Copeland | Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey, 2 March 2012

There was nothing too clever attempted in NI Opera’s new production of The Turn of the Screw, certainly nothing as ambitious as their award-winning production of Tosca on the walls of Derry City, but Britten’s atmospheric little chamber piece doesn’t really need anything more than an intimate environment to achieve optimum effect, and that was certainly achieved with the choice of venue at the Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey. The attention to detail then was in letting the music and libretto of this powerful little piece speak for itself, and with the benefit of an excellent cast of fine singers that was admirably achieved.

Screw
This is the third production from the recently formed NI Opera that I’ve seen at the Theatre at the Mill (with only one production so far, Hansel and Gretel, at the more traditional venue of the Grand Opera House in Belfast), and while one of those productions was a scaled-down romp through Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld (in conjunction with Scottish Opera), the venue has been particularly well-suited to the theatrical intimacy of something like Menotti’s The Medium and now with Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. The smaller-scale staging of course makes the works suitable for touring – an important remit of the opera company to attract new audiences from traditionally neglected parts of the province – but it’s also the best way to introduce an audience to the close relationship between a music score and a theatrical performance that takes expression to another level, and in that respect The Turn of the Screw is perhaps the most challenging of the NI Opera productions thus far.

Henry James’s novella is well-enough known, adapted numerous times for TV and cinema, and highly influential in the field of Victorian ghost stories because of the dark ambiguities that lie at the heart of the work. The story of a Governess who is engaged to look after two children, Flora and Miles, on a country estate, there are disturbing hints of child abuse or at least bad influence in the children’s relationship with two former servants, Quint and Miss Jessel, who had been engaged there previously. The Governess, half in love with the guardian of the children but forbidden from disturbing from his work in the city on any pretext, seems to conjure the spirits of the malevolent former servants – both now dead – partly out of concern for strange behaviour she witnesses in the children, partly from her own repressed urges at the suggestion of Quint and Miss Jessel’s scandalous behaviour, and partly as an excuse to get in touch with the children’s guardian.

Nothing however can be pinned-down to simple cause and effect in The Turn of the Screw and there’s no easy separation of rational and supernatural. All of what happens could be caused by the projections of the mind of the Governess, her behaviour, repression, suspicion and hysteria (heighted by stories told to her by housekeeper Mrs Grose) and her desire to protect the innocence of the children from baser adult desires (that she herself is subject to), in turn creating its own pernicious stifling repressive atmosphere. Or it could indeed be that she and the children do indeed operate under the influence of past events instigated by Quint and Miss Jessel, who are shown as ghosts and apparitions who appear throughout the work and seem to interact with the children, awakening troubling memories.

Screw

The Turn of the Screw is by no means then an easy work on a narrative or musical level, particularly for a newer audience in a non-traditional venue for an opera, but the power of the work and its ability to provoke and unsettle can surely be felt by anyone. It’s not just about creating effects with half-glimpsed apparitions in dark rooms, but it’s rather in the haunting motifs of the score and the singing that other ambiguities and unsettling ideas are suggested. If the set designed by Annemarie Woods for the NI Opera production tended towards functional minimalism, and the direction of Oliver Mears didn’t seem to attempt to add any new conceptual spin to the story, it was all the more to allow the score to speak of these ambiguities itself and not point the listener towards any safe or easy conclusion.

The sets in fact, were highly effective, not only suggesting mood and location with the shifting of walls, doors and windows, but in their arrangement being capable of opening up space or closing it down with suffocating angles. Mears directorial touches did emphasise some unnatural closeness developing in the physical contact between the Governess and Miles, but this relationship with the younger boy is undoubtedly a crucial aspect of the work, certainly in as far as it concerns Britten and his own inclinations (or indeed those of Henry James), and it shouldn’t be overlooked. At the same time, it didn’t attempt to impose a definitive reading, and it’s left – as it should be – to each member of the audience to draw their own conclusions. The Turn of the Screw can indeed be just a ghost story if that’s all you want to see in it, and Britten’s music can be seen as purely spectrally unsettling as well as being suggestive of other abstract notions and concepts.

While the score – brilliantly performed by the orchestra under the direction of Nicholas Chalmers – and the setting for the drama provided much to consider in its own terms, they were most successful in the relationship it formed with the singers. Really, the singing in all the principal roles was beyond reproach, with Fiona Murphy pushing all the ambiguities of the role of the Governess with some fine singing, Andrew Tortise a seductively dangerous Quint, and Giselle Allen reprising the role of Miss Jessel that she performed last year to such powerful effect at Glyndebourne. Yvonne Howard however deserves special mention for Mrs Grose, one of the best singers I’ve heard in the role. The children also, critical to the whole ambiguity between innocence and experience in the opera were, were played well by Lucia Vernon and particularly young Thomas Copeland, who sang Miles wonderfully, his refrain of ‘Malo’ simultaneously wistful, regretful and sinister, and his famous condemnation of Quint at the finale was powerfully effective.

ToscaGiacomo Puccini - Tosca

NI Opera, 2011 | Nicholas Chalmers, Oliver Mears, Lee Bisset, Jesús León, Paul Carey Jones, Brendan Collins, John Molloy, Andrew Rees | Derry-Londonderry, 1st April 2011

Playing for only three performances in Derry rather than what would seem to be the more natural venue of the Grand Opera House in Belfast, a production of Puccini’s Tosca would seem to be a relatively low-key event and a fairly conventional popular opera for the inaugural production of the newly-formed Northern Ireland Opera. The choices made in the location and the opera itself however proved to be far from just going for a safe choice, the timing of the event coinciding with a security alert on the day that I attended adding a further unpredictable element to the proceedings that made it an occasion that was in reality something rather special.

Some of the most remarkable elements were however indeed through the choice of NI Opera to stage the production of Tosca not in the usual expected venue. Even leaving Belfast aside, the newly built Millennium Forum would have seemed to be the venue of choice for the production’s Derry opening, but instead the company chose to stage each of the three acts of Tosca in three different locations in the city – all within short walking distance of each other, each of them approximating the Rome locations specified in the libretto. The choice of locations proved to be inspired – St Columb’s Cathedral standing in for Act 1’s Sant’ Andrea della Valle church, the fine surroundings of the City Hall The Guildhall turned into the Farnese Palace for Act 2, with the slightly more conventional theatre choice of St Columb’s Hall used for Act 3’s Castel Sant’ Angelo nonetheless having an appropriate position perched on the ancient walls of the city, where the audience were led between acts, following the orchestra carrying their instruments, for the opera’s dramatic finale.

In the event, for the matinee performance on the Friday 1st April 2011, it turned out that Act 1 had to be hastily moved from the Cathedral to the Guildhall due to a security alert that saw the bomb squad arrive with sirens blaring through the narrow streets leading up to the Diamond to deal with a suspect device left in the area of St Columb’s.  The improvised rearrangement of one of the chambers of the Guildhall to represent a church in the first Act was however effectively achieved, and even if they had to make do with a plastic bucket for a font, the natural light through the beautiful stained-glass windows helped create the right kind of environment for the unfolding of Act 1’s religious and political themes. It didn’t need an unexpected bomb alert elsewhere in the city either for the audience to connect with the relevance of the themes in Tosca to the population of Derry-stroke-Londonderry (the hyphenated split in the City’s commonly referred to designation reflecting the strong nationalist/unionist divide in the region). Apart from some non-specific modern dress elements and the visceral blood-stained white tiles of an all too familiar-looking clinical police interrogation room in Act 3, the opera wasn’t updated to make a specific link to the political and religious troubles in Northern Ireland. It would have been contentious - not to say a problematic distortion of reality - to draw a direct parallel between a rebel prisoner on the run being hunted down by brutal security forces under the control of a religious bigot and make it work, but the character types, the attitudes and the actions expressed were still those that a local audience of all ages could certainly have identified with, even if those elements were only able to be hinted at, and even if the connection wasn’t consciously made in the minds of the audience.

This then was the strength of NI Opera’s Tosca – and I’m sure that the relevance of the content of the opera didn’t go unnoticed when it and the location were chosen by the company – but it’s a characteristic of Puccini’s opera and a quality of opera in general that if its themes and their treatment have an authentic ring of truth then an audience cannot help but strongly identify with them. And it’s not just the political and religious content of the storyline – which is somewhat heightened by the compressed structure of the opera – but more importantly the underlying human element of ordinary people trying to conduct ordinary lives while caught up in a political nightmare. I find it hard to relate the romanticism in Puccini’s work elsewhere to the versimo movement that he was nominally a part of, but Tosca is one opera at least that plays to the school of hard-knocks and brutal realism. That aspect was thoroughly and bloodily explored in the wonderful staging, judging by the reaction of the public to each of the acts, but in particular to the hugely dramatic conclusion where the audience were on their feet and roaring their approval even before the curtain fell and while Nicholas Chalmers was still wringing out the opera’s final powerful closing chords from the orchestra.

The Guildhall and St Columb’s Hall locations were certainly instrumental in achieving this effect, bringing the audience close to the performance and allowing them to relate to it in a way one could never get from any opera house in the world – making the richness of the orchestration and the singing even more apparent. We were fortunate in this respect to have Lee Bisset (for the Friday matinee performance only – I didn’t get the chance to hear the main Tosca Giselle Allen who sang the two evening performances) as leading soprano for the occasion, delivering a commanding and sometimes dramatically strident Tosca when viewed close-up like this, but whose powerful voice nonetheless carried all the emotional cry-to-whisper dynamic of a character whose range encompasses lightning switches between jealousy over the model for Cavaradossi’s painting, to love and compassion for the torture he endures while incarcerated, right through to murderous vengeance on the man who would abuse her. Bisset not only made the full force of those verismo emotions felt, she made them credible.

Any attempt to give subtlety or complexity to the character of Baron Scarpia as Chief of Police would have been out of place here, and Paul Carey Jones accordingly played him as a villain through and through, at the same time relating the singing fully to the tone of his character as it is outlined in Puccini’s brooding and evocative score, most evident in the self-important arrogance of political power conflated with religious authority conveyed in the Te Deum. In the location of the Derry/Londonderry Guildhall (standing in for the closed-off Cathedral of course), this Act 1 conclusion needed no additional overemphasis. The only weak element of the singing I felt was Mexican tenor Jesús León as Cavaradossi, whose accented delivery was rather thin and unmusical, closer to speaking his role than singing it or fully feeling it – though I’m sure singing it in English didn’t help. Perhaps however the Guildhall surroundings and the comparatively more powerful singing of his fellow-cast members in the earlier Acts also rather overshadowed his voice (as does my memory of Plácido Domingo in the role). This would seem to be borne out by a much more convincing performance on an actual stage and with the acoustics of St Columb’s Hall behind him, since his E lucevan le stelle there was excellent at conveying the range of emotions his character is going through at such a pivotal moment in his life.

In the short period of their existence since their formation at the end of 2010, Northern Ireland Opera have nonetheless provided me personally with a number of unique opera experiences. Their chamber orchestra production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium at the Mill Theatre in Newtownabbey (another uncommon place for an opera production) introduced the province – or at least a small local audience – to an unfamiliar work from a modern composer in a wonderfully intimate environment. Tosca in Derry was even more ambitious in doing something different from the norm, clearly reaching out to bring opera into the provinces and expand the audience (with an affordable highest ticket price at only £15 – another welcome experience) through making the staging a unique and special event that cannot be replicated anywhere else. (Tosca has of course been staged for film and television in its original Rome locations, but it takes on another dimension when performed this way in Northern Ireland). It was a pity that the very location should prove problematic on this one occasion, and I regret not having the opportunity of seeing Act 1 of Tosca in St Columb’s Cathedral, but while NI Opera clearly have great ambitions for what opera can bring to the people of the province, there are clearly some objectives that just may be a little bit beyond their range of influence.

MediumGian Carlo Menotti - The Medium

NI Opera / Second Movement | Oliver Mears, Nicholas Chalmers, Doreen Curran, Yvette Bonner, Will Stokes, David Butt Philip, Jane Harrington, Alison Dunne | Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey - February 15th, 2011

One of a number of smaller scale events being organised by the newly formed Northern Ireland Opera prior to their official inaugural multi-staged version of Tosca, where each act will be performed in different locations in Derry-Londonderry, the staging of Gian Carlo Menotti’s 1946 chamber opera at the Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey last night was a promising taster, one hopes, of a sign of the company’s adventurousness in its attempts to raise awareness of opera through performances of lesser-known works and through events that are less traditional in their presentation.

Menotti’s The Medium, a short 65 minute two act piece which has been adapted for film and television in the past, can hardly be called adventurous, but its production by Second Movement under the direction of NI Opera’s artistic director Oliver Mears, proved to be musically refreshing and the opera itself opened up some interesting ideas. Based on a real-life experience of the composer’s at a séance while holidaying in Austria with Samuel Barber, it’s tempting to compare the piece to Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, if only because of the sparseness of the orchestration and the ability of the instruments to evoke a spooky atmosphere, but while it remains similarly ambiguous on the question of what is real and what is imagined or projected by the protagonists, The Medium, with its more variably toned score, seems to touch on wider aspects of self-delusion and even mass-hysteria than Henry James’ tale of Victorian sexual repression.

Prior to this production, the only piece I would have been familiar with from this opera, or indeed from Menotti for that matter, would have been Monica’s Waltz, recorded by Renée Fleming on her album I Want Magic, and delicately performed here by Yvette Bonner, with a tone more appropriate to the age of her young character than Fleming’s dramatic rendition. It’s this piece, sung at the start of Act 2 by Monica the daughter of the false medium, Baba – or Madame Flora as she is known – to Toby, a young orphan with no voice found on the streets of Budapest and taken into the household as a servant, that opens up the opera to wider aspects than its central dramatic subject of a fake séance that goes terribly wrong. In it, the young girl projects onto the silent Toby all her romantic desires for going out dancing and to the theatre, giving him the voice that she longs to hear.

MediumMonica’s desires are no different from those of the customers who come to Madame Flora looking to get into contact with their dead children – Jane Harrington’s recounting of the drowning of the Gobineau’s two-year old child was delivered most effectively and chillingly, fully expressing those emotions that bring them to the medium – as an attempt to fill the void that has been left in their lives. Even Baba actions, as can be judged by her rescuing of an orphan – even the fact that she mistreats him – her alcoholism and her attempts to feel important as Madame Baba, speak of a deeper void that needs to be filled, and Doreen Curran’s well-sung performance of the role is dramatically commanding and emotionally sensitive in this respect as her drink-addled confusion and fears of tapping into something more sinister pushes her into near-hysteria.

With each of the characters suffering from self-induced delusions of one kind or another, it might not be pushing it too far, considering the immediate post-war writing of The Medium, to consider this kind of mass hysteria and the dangerous places it can lead to as a reaction to the Second World War. There is nothing specific in the opera that leads one to consider it in those terms, but there is undoubtedly a correlation between the séance and a nation looking to someone like Hitler to give them a voice and sense of meaning, and – particularly in Toby, the opera’s silent character, one who significantly plays with glove puppets – there’s enough ambiguity to make wider associations. It’s in this necessary space that an audience is likewise expected to project their own desires, and it’s there that the opera is ultimately successful.