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Auction House Christie's Hosts Wine and Song

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Opera keeps cropping up in all sorts of unexpected places these days. The latest unusual environment is Christie’s auction house, where a new comic opera will premiere next month. The Lovely Ladies doesn’t just use the King Street, SW1 location but draws on the wine diaries of the company’s wine critic, Michael Broadbent, for subject matter.

The one-night entertainment – an evening of champagne, canapés and opera - will be given in aid of Maggie’s Caring Cancer Centres, the start of an ongoing fundraising relationship between the charity and production company Opera Unlimited.

Broadbent is the celebrated critic who started wine auctions at Christie’s. The 50 minute opera is set in (and will be played in) the firm’s bonded warehouse, where a group of select wines and champagne are shaken by a rumour that the esteemed critic has forsaken the wine industry. Fearful for their futures, the wines vie amongst themselves as to who should be the ambassador to lure him back to wine tasting. George Saintsbury, a great authority from the past, appears as a deus ex machina to restore calm.

Music is by Peter Cowdrey, who counts among his credits the musical directorship of Suffolk Opera, and he’s joined in the venture by poet Hamish Robinson as librettist. The director is Rosie Johnston and the cast consists of a blend of vintage (geddit?) singers and operatic newcomers, including soprano Marie McLaughlin, baritone Richard Suart and ex-Royal Opera Young Artist James Edwards as an ambitious young wine.

Another former Jette Parker Young Artist taking part is Anita Watson as the capable Alsace wine, while Lilly Papaioannou is a full-bodied Rhone, Hal Cazalet an elegant but aloof Burgundy and baritone Toby Stafford Allen adds fizz as a playboy champagne.

Ravel did a pretty good job in L’Enfant et les sortilèges of animating furniture and kitchen utensils, so why shouldn’t wine with character work too? Cowdrey sets his score for piano, violin, trombone, clarinet and double bass and casts back to the odes of Purcell and Handel.

Maggie’s Centres was founded by Maggie Keswick Jencks, who died in 1995 but whose pioneering care work is being realised by the charity that bears her name, with six centres across the UK. The Gala Premiere of The Lovely Ladies takes place on Wednesday 12 May at 7.15pm at Christie’s, King Street, SW1.


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