The Lost Domain, Wilde Theatre, Bracknell
Clifford Bevan, Opera Magazine
20 March 1984

The potential problems in combining professional and amateur performers in opera have not discouraged a practice with a history stretching from the French court in the 16th century to Benjamin Britten and the founding of Welsh National Opera in the 20th. The Lost Domain, which received its premiere at Bracknell on March 20, is markedly successful in overcoming the inherent difficulties. Ian Barnett used Alain Fournier's classic French novel Le Grand Meaulnes as the basis of his libreto. It was a sound choice for an opera for young people. Barnett keeps the action moving at a fast pace, through the slapstick of a 'run down circus act', scuffles with and muggings by groups of thugs and scenes set in the sophistication of Paris, as a contrast to the principal rural setting with its 'strange and mysterious chateâu'.

Composer Gary Carpenter, who also conducted, provided a score which moved easily from a neo-Stravinskian idiom to Hollywood spectacular in the big chorus set pieces, unified by colourful writing for the wind and minimal music figuration in harp and strings. Inevitably there were passing references to Britten (difficult to avoid in any English-language work of this type) and occasionally the exuberant orchestration overwhelmed the solo voices, though the playing, by the theatre's resident professional Kreisler String Orchestra augmented by wind and percussion students of London music college, was of a consistently high standard. The ear was constantly challenged and often enchanted, with off-stage chorus and pit-based treble voice adding interesting extra dimensions.

The principals were young professional singers. Charles Johnstone (François) showed a commanding stage presence, while Tom Marandola and Sandra Porter were well-cast as the young lovers Augustin and Yvonne. Elizabeth Chard and Simon Tunkin gave convincing interpretations of the parts of Valentine and Franz.

Librettist, composer, and the producer Dominic Barber all used their large chorus with skill, and the singers responded well to both stage and music direction. The Ranelagh School also provided a team of five dancers, who coped admirably with the demands of romantic ballet, a vaudeville routine and, in the impressive Requiem forming the work's penultimate scene, modern dance. Tony Ford had designed a versatile set to which lighting designer Eddie Gowan was able to bring some breathtaking moments, using the theatre's excellent technical facilities.

In this three-act opera lastin exactly three hours the only longeur came in Act 3 where a rather wordy preparation of the dénouement showed the need for some adjustment, but otherwise there was all that an operal should have. Berkshire County Council, the Arts Council and the TVS Trust must have felt the satisfaction of money well spent. For a capacity audience there was a riveting and enjoyable evening's entertainment, and for the 150 participants, professional and amateur, and undoubted feeling of being involved in a production of true quality.

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