This was very much an evening of two halves – one noticeably more successful than the other.
Oxford Opera Studio is a group new to me – I can find no record of any previous performances. Their choice of Seymour Barab’s work ‘A Game of Chance’ was an interesting and enjoyable one. Scored for soprano, 2 mezzos and a baritone, it is a chamber piece of much charm and lyricism – not to mention some gentle humour. The three ladies have excellent voices and were well accompanied by Nia Williams on the piano. I do wish they would have risked losing a little of their vocal sheen to aid the clarity of the lyrics – but this is a minor quibble. It was an entertaining 40 minutes of music theatre new to me (and I suspect to the rest of the audience).
I only wish that the first part of the evening had proved as satisfying. It is never easy trying to put together a medley of numbers into a piece worth staging. Such combinations of unrelated songs are better left to the concert hall. And so it proved with this particular work. ‘At the Paradise Club’ was a mish-mash of songs strung together with some of the clunkiest dialogue I have heard in a long time. It had no flow or dramatic sense. I would have preferred just to hear some close harmony singing. The close harmony singing was, on the whole, good. However it was totally the wrong style of music for this particular group.
If you are going to attempt to sing swing and jazz numbers, you have to have a real understanding of the style. It is not enough to sing the notes – you have to be able to play with the tempi, the rhythms and the intonation with an innate feel for it. I have to say that Women of Note do not seem to have this in them. They have some pleasing voices – but these would be better employed on other material. They were vocally underpowered for the venue and sounded out of their comfort zone.
With the right repertoire and without trying to force American accents and styles that don’t suit them, I am sure that Women of Note would be a pleasure to listen to in the concert hall. But theatrical presentation is something they should avoid.
All in all a short evening (I was home by 9pm) and one that only partially worked. You can’t win them all.