Dove’s church opera is a delight from start to finish.
Michael Quinn 2010-08-25
Jonathan Dove’s church opera for professional soloists and amateur chorus makes its welcome appearance on disc more than a decade after its debut in a co-production by English Touring Opera and the Young Vic Theatre.
Taken from the Book of Tobit – one of the Bible’s rogue chapters regarded by some Christians as being dubious Apocrypha – it tells the story of the eponymous Tobit, who, when blinded in punishment for giving a fellow Jew a proper burial, sends his son Tobias to retrieve an overdue loan. On the journey, Tobias is befriended by a stranger (later revealed as the angel Raphael) who accompanies him on several adventures. Cue giant fishes, murderous demons and romantic encounters, before he returns home to restore his father’s sight.
There’s drama enough in a tale that attracted Haydn and Arthur Bliss before Dove, yet, as Julian Grant remarks in his booklet note, this Tobias and the Angel is one of the composer’s "sunniest and most serene scores". Certainly, there’s more than a hint of the carnival in joyously approachable music that revels in a vivid sense of theatre, while leaning heavily on Jewish folk melodies and redemptive ecclesiastical idioms – a combination that prompted one approving description of the original production as "Fiddler on the Roof-meets-Turn of the Screw".
With an engaging, music-theatre buoyancy about it, David Lan’s deliciously witty, eminently singable libretto provides a perfect springboard for Dove’s beautifully assembled, deftly executed armoury of accents, allusions and attractively amiable originality. Pristinely recorded in late 2006 in the accommodating acoustic of St Jude-on-the-Hill in North London, shortly after performances that marked the re-opening of the Young Vic, this Chandos release bristles with a fresh, zesty vitality that is wholly becoming.
Performances throughout are exemplary: the Tobias of Darren Abrahams adroitly pitched between innocence and juvenile brio, countertenor James Laing’s Raphael potently serene and full of otherworldly nuance, Karina Lucas’s Sara vivacious and vibrant, and Omar Ebrahim’s Tobit touchingly detailed.
The nine-piece band and 139-strong community chorus play and sing with utter conviction, shaping and shading proceedings with an impeccable feel for Dove’s freewheeling, chirpy (and altogether captivating) sense of fantasy. A delight from start to finish.