WNO Opera Favourites review: A night of opera's biggest hits that pleases both novices and aficionados

The WNO can’t seem to get enough of Plymouth audiences and returned last night for the third time in less than a year. A lucky local crowd were completely wowed by their latest production titled simply, “Opera Favourites.”

This new piece is a showcase of opera’s biggest hits. Director Sophie Gilpin’s set list includes many very recognisable songs from the genre’s long history. Some of these compositions feature on film soundtracks, including Raging Bull and The Godfather; maybe that’s why it seems to please both the novice and the Opera aficionado.

Orchestras for operas are usually placed below the stage, but this evening the full orchestra are placed proudly on the stage. The musicians can be seen from all angles throughout the entirety of this operatic adventure meaning that the performance feels more like a concert than a traditional opera.

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The atmosphere maybe more like a festival or concert but this doesn’t stop the WNO from delivering the dramatic aspect opera is famous for. In fact, during its opening scene, a 50 strong choir join the 50 musicians on stage to perform an utterly exhilarating introduction. With ugly and intimidating facial expressions and aggressive looking movements, the mighty choir peer and glare out into the audience; we’re eyed up and down like we’re the groups’ sworn enemies as they sing parts of Una vela! f rom Otello. Against the orchestra’s intense score, this moment of high-octane energy sets the tone for the rest of the evening.

Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro steals the limelight in Act One. Widely acknowledged as the perfect first opera to watch, it features three times which gives us plenty of opportunity to get to grips with its main themes of love and infidelity. Baritone James Cleverton uses a range of charismatic and charming gestures, as well as his superb voice, to convey his character’s complex emotions. In the absence of captions, this attention to the visual element of the performance helps us follow snippets of the plot. The singing is perfect and up to the WNO’s impeccably high standards.

As great as both the singing and use of movement is tonight, the orchestra shine just as brightly on their own. Under conductor Frederick Brown, they deliver a sensational version of Britten’s Storm Interlude, from Peter Grimes. The sheer scale of this part of the evening cannot be overstated enough; it is epic.

Act 2, led by Edmund Whitehead, includes more instantly recognisable pieces, such as Puccini’s O mio babbino caro o (from Gianni Schicchi) and Delibes’ Flower Duet . Wearing stunning red and green dresses , Helen Jarmany and Emily Christina Loftus bring us a little piece of heaven when their voices harmonise as they sing Delibes’ piece. The string section really gets to show off during Humming Chorus from Madam Butterfly. They sensitively pluck their strings as the chorus hum in harmony off stage. This is my personal favourite moment of the night; it’s magical.

For many, the most rousing section of the show must be the bonus track we’re generously gifted at the end; Puccini’s Nessun Dorma . It’s executed perfectly by Adam Gilbert and results in a standing ovation and loud whoops of appreciation from the entire crowd.

Pleasing both firm followers of opera and new fans alike is a challenge but judging by tonight’s audience reaction, WNO have completely nailed it. Let’s hope they come back to Plymouth again soon.