Having been awarded Best New Society last year and nominated for Best Society just last week, the University of St Andrews Opera Society (OpSoc) continues on its mission to bring opera of a high quality to the town’s student-run staged music scene, which, until recently, has been desperately lacking in opera.
Previous successful productions of well-known baroque masterpieces included Handel’s Semele and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, both of which to a large extent owed their maturity and precision to the expertise of Dr Sean Heath, whose musical direction (Semele) and harpsichord accompaniment (Semele, Dido and Aeneas) helped bring this challenging music to life. After their most recent and by far the most ambitious production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, the society is back to what they arguably do best – small-scale productions with focus on excellent singing. Coffee Cantata, directed and accompanied by Dr Heath, constituted just that.
Bach’s Coffee Cantata was written in the mid-eighteenth century and constitutes a comic cantata telling a story about an old man Schlendrian (Oliver Linehan) having an argument with his daughter Lieschen (Catherine Hooper) over her coffee addiction, with interjections from the narrator (George Appleyard). Having pleasantly surprised me with his talent for comedy acting as Mercury in Orpheus, Oliver Linehan did not disappoint with his portrayal of a dismayed albeit affectionate and a bit lost father. Catherine Hooper portrayed temperamental and playful Lieschen, with confidence and charisma familiar to audience members who watched her in multiple previous productions, such as the Byre Opera’s Cunning Little Vixen. There was not only excellent singing by all three singers on display, but also entertaining acting in a challenging setting, with limited space in the venue. The singers were supported by the orchestra matching in quality (with a particularly impressive performance from the flute player Will Tamblyn). I was particularly pleased with the unconventional choice of venue (Bibi’s café). Not only did it create a lovely homely atmosphere, it was also a very historically appropriate choice for this piece since this work is thought to have been performed for the first time in a coffee house in Leipzig.
I am looking forward to seeing more productions from OpSoc – short, small-scale productions have proven to be a great way to attract the audience new to opera as well as performers new to the St Andrews music scene, and exploration of non-conventional performance spaces in town is also refreshing. I look forward with some anticipation to their upcoming projects on the Byre stage.