Welsh National Opera: Beatrice & Benedict at Theatre Royal Plymouth (review)

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Berlioz’s Beatrice & Benedict is essentially a musical adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, stripped of some of Shakespeare’s original conception, though with an extra comic-role created by the composer apparently by way of compensation.

Welsh National Opera’s single set is immediately appealing, with the full moon appearing later against the blue night sky providing the perfect romantic ambiance.

But at best, the opera still comes over as a series of individual scenes – a feeble plot lacking any real dramatic cohesion, cobbled together with spoken dialogue, and one of the production’s main weaknesses.

Given in English, surtitles are used for the musical numbers, but would have been equally useful for those who were more singer than actor.

In any case the inflexions of the original-sung French might have better suited the composer’s musical lines.

Of course, Donald Maxwell, as the bolt-on role of Somarone, stole the show, but even here he had to work hard to get many laughs with his topical ad-libs, and the point that the performers were able to sing and play deliberately out of tune seemed unnecessarily laboured.

Conductor, Michael Hofstetter, gets the best out of the excellent orchestra, and the lead roles are strong, if not spectacular.

But, as with the eponymous lovers themselves, you’ll probably have a love-hate relationship with the work. Perhaps the Immortal Bard’s own title says it best.


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