Persuasion (tour – Bury St Edmunds)
The Italians have a name for this genre – pasticcio. It signifies a confection of music by many different composers (easy enough to do in those copyright-free days) harnessed to an original plot.
The trouble with confections is that they can be over-sugary. There's always a slight tartness to Jane Austen's novels, even at their most light-hearted moments. Persuasion is the most autumnal of them all.
Landis's touring production by Chamber Opera Chicago takes music from Austen's own collections as well as by many other composers to create an operetta version of the story. It's very faithful to the novel – too much so, for it's overlong with Rowlandsonesque tavern and quayside scenes as padding.
A brace of midshipmen performing a quickfire Irish dance (choreographed by Tyler Schwartz) is fine, but not when thrice repeated. I'm not sure that naval etiquette of the Napoleonic Wars period would permit such a social mingling of the ranks – Austen had naval officer brothers.
Overall the acting as well as the singing is of a high standard. Landis makes Anne Elliot into a credible heroine, a woman on the cusp of fading into spinsterhood and also plays Austen, who narrates the story to a niece and nephew (Karissa and Brandon Burkhardt).
Sir Walter is a gift to any singer with a sense of the absurd and John Boss gives his vanity full measure. Once spurned for lack of status and wealth, Captain Wentworth has returned to England with renown and prize money; Jeff Diebold gives him a suitable slightly withdrawn saturninity both vocally and histrionically.
Satellites to the central story are the Musgrove sisters (Kirstin John as Louisa, Sarah Kropski as Henrietta) who trill away prettily. Brian Acker as country curate Henry Hayter has a nicely plaintive arioso towards the end of the first act. The thoroughly tiresome Mary Musgrave (née Elliot) is given full weight by Anne Marie Lewis. Captains Benwick (Robert Brady) and Harville (Peter Vamvakas) are neatly contrasted.
Nyela Basney conducts the ensemble with a clearly marked beat. The actual staging by Nick Sandys and Kyle Dougan is simple with minimal furnishings but a judicious use of projections (John Boesche and Joseph Burke). The amplification at the first Bury St Edmunds performance failed to take into account the Theatre Royal's acoustic virtues.
Persuasion tours the UK until 1 August.