Baritone Peter Brathwaite (left) and soprano Alison Buchanan (centre) with Barbados’ High Commisioner Guy Hewitt after the show. (Picture by Tyrone Roach.)
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As the rest of Britain struggled with the extreme temperatures and the notorious Beast From The East hit central London, the Pegasus Opera Company premiered an opera double bill Ruth and The Dark Lady Of The Sonnets, showcasing women in lead roles.
The Actors Church (St Paul’s) in Covent Garden was the venue of what was a magical evening of music and laughter for a novice of this genre like me, but even more than that it was inspiring to be able to identify with two performers of Barbadian heritage, soprano Alison Buchanan and baritone Peter Brathwaite.
The Old Testament Book Of Ruth, one of only two books in the Bible named after women, tells the story of the marriage of Boaz and Ruth. This adaptation is a tale of acceptance, sacrifice and loyalty, with Ruth, a Moabite, marrying the Israelite Boaz. At the premiere, Ruth was performed by soprano Alison Buchanan, Boaz by Byron Jackson (Porgy And Bess – English Touring Opera; Idomeneo – Birmingham Opera Company; and Anna Nicole – Royal Opera House), and Naomi by Kamilla Dunstan.
The second opera The Dark Lady Of The Sonnets, by George Bernard Shaw, is a fun, one-act piece that re-imagines the first meeting between William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth. While Shakespeare is in a secret relationship with a lady of the royal court, he is enamoured with the queen. As Shakespeare juggles both women’s tempers and desires, he finds himself inspired to write new material.
Sarah Champion played Queen Elizabeth, Annabelle Williams (I Am – Royal Albert Hall; Mahogany – English National Opera; and Caroline Or Change – National Theatre) played The Dark Lady, with Oliver Brignal (The Fantastic Mr Fox – Opera Holland Park) as William Shakespeare.
Pegasus Opera is the leading multiracial touring opera company in the United Kingdom (UK) and was founded in 1992 by Lloyd Newton. Following Newton’s sad passing in January 2017, Alison Buchanan fulfilled his dying wish and has taken on the role of artistic director.
The company creates opportunities for professional singers from diverse backgrounds to develop and perform in high-quality and innovative opera productions and arts education work. Its mission is to model what they call “harmony in diversity” by empowering those who are continually marginalised and not usually part of the opera world.
Their past productions include Carmen, Magic Flute, I Pagliacci on national tours; Porgy And Bess at the Barbican Concert Hall; Delius’ Koanga at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre; and Treemonisha at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre and UK tour. The company’s patrons are Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Kristin Lewis and Chuka Umunna, MP. (TR)