Playground Opera at Welcombe Hills School, Stratford-upon-Avon *****

Rarely have I had such a life-enhancing experience as that I was privileged to share at Welcombe Hills on Wednesday morning, along with 100 excited and enthusiastic children of all ages.

Playground Opera is one of Longborough Festival Opera’s many educational outreach activities, and under the aegis of director Maria Jagusz and musical director Jessica May it takes mini-opera productions to a range of schools around the Cotwolds area. But Welcombe Hills is unique, catering as it does for those with special educational needs, all the children clapping in time, tapping their toes, rocking backwards and forwards and even putting their fingers in their ears in their instinctive response to the music-making delivered by Playground Opera’s remarkable little  company.

The Implausible Potions of Dr Dulcamara, derived from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, was set in a travelling circus, with a colourful, immediately attractive set, and with a singing complement of three: Matthew Siveter (by now an old hand) quick-changing as Dulcamara and Belcore, Rachel Speirs as the love-interest Adina, big-voiced even at this time of the morning, and Tobias Campos Santinaque as the sympathy-grabbing Nemorino, teddy-bear and all. Jagusz was the deft ringmaster, and other parts were taken by a couple of PO’s expert techies.

May’s reduction of Donizetti’s sparkling score was vividly rendered by herself at the piano, and the expert husband-and-wife duo of Milos (accordion) and Anja (violin) Milivojevic.

The fascinated audience and their devoted helpers loved it all, as did I, and this hard-boiled old critic can’t wait for next year.

Christopher Morley

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