Opera review How wonderful it is to live

However, I’ve always found the popularity of this film a bit disconcerting. James Stewart is brilliant, of course, as the honest and generous George Bailey, but the whole plot seems illogical to me.

With his life and finances falling apart and a warrant out for his arrest, George is about to commit suicide, but his guardian angel saves him and listens to his story which ends with the words “I wish I had never been born.”

The angel grants this wish and shows George how horrible the world would be if he had never been born.

Seeing all the good he’s accomplished in his life, George perks up considerably, which isn’t really rational. His reaction should be to say, “Okay, I was wrong to say that it would be better if I were never born, but I’m still broke and facing arrest, and killing myself still seems like what’s best for everyone.”

Fortunately, things get better when the townspeople give him enough gifts and money to cure all his problems, so the moral of the story shouldn’t be that friends are the best in the world, but that rich and generous friends are really what we need. .

It’s A Wonderful Life opera was written by American composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer in 2018 and the story closely follows that of the film.

However, one important and highly effective change is the change of sex. In the movie, George’s future was in the hands of Clarence, a second-rate angel who had been waiting for two hundred years for the chance to get his wings; in the opera, Clarence becomes Clara, played by the angelic-voiced Danielle De Niese, who was on stage for most of the opera while she was learning George’s story.

His performance was a delight and the only weak point came at the end when he rejoices in having earned his wings as he soars above the stage on the wires. Instead of soaring gloriously on her new wings, she seemed rather uncomfortable with her new strings.

George himself was played by tenor Frederick Ballentine, who added to his rapidly growing reputation, singing, dancing and playing the part beautifully.

With baritone Michael Mayes effectively carving his way into the role of villainous, money-loving, power-grabbing Henry Potter, the lead roles were played to perfection and the supporting cast did their job well too, but the opera itself was less success.

There were two main problems: the plot and the music. When turning a movie into an opera, the story has to change to fit the setting.

Some of the most effective parts of the film, especially those that tell the story of George’s life, involved quick changes of location that would be impossible in a theater. Others, like jumping into a river or falling into a pool, are just as difficult to represent on stage.

By sticking too closely to the film and lacking the imagination to find alternatives, the staging was not convincing.

The biggest problem, however, was the music. History is a glorious game and this deserves a more melodious and joyous score than Heggie offers.

It’s the kind of story that might be better treated as a musical with some impressive numbers rather than a rather sober opera.

The first night audience, however, seemed to enjoy it, but I suspect they were enjoying the memories of the film and applauding the performers rather than the opera itself. It was an excellent performance of a rather unconvincing opera.

Tickets: www.eno.org or 020 7845 9300 (until December 10)

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