Fiddler on the Roof, Grange Park Opera, June 2015Posted on 6 June 2015
Rising anti-Semitism in Europe makes an excellent time for Grange Park to stage this story that ends with the forced abandonment of a Jewish stetl in Imperial Russia. There in the Pale of Settlement where permanent residency of Jews was allowed, life could be hard, balanced precariously like a fiddler on the roof. And if the authorities decided to consign one of these little towns to oblivion, like the fictional Anatevka in this story, then no one had a roof, and as the story ends the whole populace hauls themselves offstage, the pathos of the moment only spoiled by a man in the front row of the audience taking photographs.
Why? This was not an hour of history to be recorded forever but simply a performance, though a very fine one and with Bryn Terfel as the main protagonist, Tevye the dairyman, we find ourselves in the midst of a Hasidic community where old certainties are giving way to new ideas, always modified in true Jewish manner by internal debate. These debates, often taking place in Tevye’s head, are brought brilliantly to life by Terfel, and in the relatively small setting of Grange Park, one feels almost a part of the community in this stetl.
For this we have to thank director/ designer Antony McDonald, helped by Gabrielle Dalton’s fine costume designs and Lucy Carter’s excellent lighting, not to mention the superb dancing, where Lucy Burge’s choreography was performed with great panache. In opera when singers dance it is with simple steps to a regular beat, but Tevye’s daughters were whirling around with great choreographic flair. But then those trained for musicals are from a different stable. They sing in the changing room after dance class, unlike ballet dancers, or indeed opera singers who rarely even take dance class. Such a refreshing change from the serious world of opera — sheer joy.
But serious it is too, performed with conviction by Charlotte Harwood, Katie Hall and Molly Lynch as Tevye’s three older daughters, and Janet Fullerlove as his wife. Anthony Flaum was thoroughly engaging as the earnest young tailor who woos the first daughter, as was Jordan Simon Pollard as the eager student with revolutionary ideas who woos the second. And although in serious opera not one of the cast could hold a candle to Terfel, the size of the theatre rendered miking unnecessary, and Katie Hall’s voice came over beautifully.
Perhaps the story loses some energy in the second half, but that is the original libretto, and this vivacious production with a real fiddler, conducted with huge energy and commitment by David Charles Abell with the BBC Concert Orchestra, is a celebration of life. Based on Yiddish tales by Sholem Aleichem, showing a vanished world where respect for fundamentalist tradition is combined with willingness to debate, it is as different from the new fundamentalism in our midst as life is from death.
To Grange Park congratulations, or in the words of the libretto, mazel tov!
Performances continue on various dates until July 3 — for details click here.