In December, Grange Park Opera released a free online recording of its new production of Benjamin Britten's Owen Wingrave as part of its Interim Season of online performances, and is currently still available to stream. Originally conceived as an opera for television in 1971, Britten's 'ghost-opera', about a man who wishes to deviate from his family's military traditions, is the perfect adaptation for an online, streamed production.
Filming over five days in September, director Stephen Medcalf has set Britten’s opera in 2001 on the brink of the war with Afghanistan and collaborates with an incredible cast; Ross Ramgobin as the titular lead; Susan Bullock as Miss Wingrave; Richard Berkeley Steele as Sir Philip Wingrave; and William Dazeley and Janis Kelly as Mr and Mrs Coyle respectively. Filmed on location, the production makes use of actual haunted houses in Surrey and London to facilitate the numerous interiors required.
Medcalf comments, “A minimal crew maintained distancing in intimate domestic interiors and COVID restrictions required the cast to costume themselves. I’ve given full rein to the satirical, often blackly comic aspects of the opera. Alongside that there are three serious themes: the pressure from society to conform; the courage it takes to stand up for who we really are; the destructive love of family.”
The production is so far receiving praise. Benjamin Poore of Operawire writes, “Ross Ramgobin’s Owen is a great vehicle for the moral courage at the heart of the opera as well as its pity and humanity. His voice has enough metal in its core to give power and conviction, but not so much that it becomes metallic or overbearing; more lyrical moments are tender without being cloying. The undoubted high point comes in his great Act two monologue on peace, delivered outside Sir Phillip’s room.”
This production uses a special arrangement of the music for piano and percussion, but the work is also available in its full and chamber orchestrations. The latter, prepared by David Matthews, is an appropriate size for socially-distanced performance.