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Published date: July 6, 2019
Last modified: July 8, 2019

Young Critics Review 2019 – Mansfield Park (by Natalie Borenstein)

Mansfield Park – An opera by Johnathan Dove, based on the novel by Jane Austen

Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park at Swinfen Hall was a truly phenomenal event to attend. The historical social and emotional dialogues of Austen’s original novel were conveyed with fine theatrics and beautiful depth of vocal tone from the singers. Surrounded by a fitting venue which coincided with the time period perfectly, one really felt part of the story and setting.

In an interview with the conductor of The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire – Paul Wingfield – my eyes were also opened to the intricate processes behind the events that the organisation performs.

When asked, he predicated that it was unique in offering large-scale opportunities to younger performers. Mansfield Park was therefore performed by undergraduates, though the professional value of the performance was almost infallible. The singer Lily Allen-Dodd who portrayed Mary Crawford was particularly impressive due to her pure but warm vibrato.

Off-stage, the Repetiteur Kuan-Hua Lai provided an astonishingly fast-paced and passionate performance on the piano.

Lots of effective work also went into costume design and stage management to produce an immersive effect. Instead of using traditional staging, the audience encircled the performers. Had the singers stayed in place, the overall experience would have been limited, but with clever on-stage management, they moved in natural rounds that provided the audience with an enthralling spark of theatrical literature- the feeling one gets when utterly besotted with a good book.

It is also worth mentioning that this opera was performed under ill-circumstance. Lawrence Thackeray stepped in for Jack Whiting (who played Mr Rushworth, a considerable part) at short notice; however, his part was still sung with a sense of effusive elegance.

The characterisation, in addition, did justice to the novel. Fanny Price, the ever introverted and far from gregarious yet bright girl was strategically recluse in acting, positioned – for the first act – a little aside from the other performers while long melodic laments preserved the inner dialogue Austen intended.

During their introduction, the Bertrams’ pretentious, narcissistic airs were both accurately cold towards Fanny and held great comedic value, especially concerning Lady Bertram and Mrs Norris.

My impression of the evening was, to conclude, wonderful. I believe it is a remarkable achievement to create and perform such a poignant and sophisticated contemporary opera.

By Natalie Borenstein (age 15)