Writer: Ian McMillan
Director: Tom Wright
Composer: Russell Sarre
Music Director: Ben Crick
Designer: Ryan Dawson-Laight
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Ice Cream: The Opera proved to be as unusual a musical/dramatic event as you could see in a year of festivals, but at the same time surprisingly and effectively mainstream in many ways. It’s rather sad that no performances are planned after the three in a day at the Bradford Festival; it’s difficult to envisage the logistics of any further production.
The production was a joint effort by Skipton Building Society Camerata (the very nifty accompanying sextet), Spin Arts and Freedom Studios, Bradford’s masters of the site-specific production. The site, in this case, was the City Park at Centenary Square, with a performance area dominated by two ice-cream vans. The 35-minute opera was composed long-distance, with Australian composer Russell Sarre being sent Ian McMillan’s libretto from Barnsley to his home in the United States.
Despite all this, Ice Cream: The Opera is a pretty coherent piece of work. Two ice cream vans, one Italian-owned, one Indian-owned, engage in a territory war and also a dispute over the quality of their individual confections. The son and daughter, Romano and Geetha, fall in love in an echo of the Romeo and Juliet story – will this heighten the tensions or defuse them? The racial angle –what is Britishness? – is dealt with seriously, but fairly lightly, with the Indian father insisting that he has been here longer than the Italian mother.
McMillan’s libretto keeps it clear and simple, with the odd good joke thrown in, and Sarre takes advantage with an extremely accessible and singable score. Traditional operatic or classical figures play their part, with a phrase in praise of raspberry jam repeated many times with suitable ornamentation and the capable and well-drilled community choir clamouring for ice cream in what sounded suspiciously like a fugue.
At the opening only the Italian van is present and the music hints at Neapolitan folk song; later some Indian colouring (the band includes a sitar) is most obvious when the Father proclaims his pride in his background. Sarre’s music runs the gamut from perky little tunes to rich choral writing to vivid ensembles among the quarrelling ice-creamers. The whole thing is to be taken lightly – with a joke tragic ending – but that doesn’t rule out a fine love duet.
Crick held it together musically in the Festival setting: the urban brass band and the singing mermaids took a break, but the fountains still played and the occasional festival-goer wandered across the set. Tom Wright’s production secured likeable performances from four very capable singers. As the Italian Mother Hannah Mason’s powerful mezzo summoned up surprising intensity for a jolly half-hour in the park, Joseph Doody brought a ringing tenor and a winning personality to Romano. As Geetha Tara Mansfield’s soprano thinned out a bit at the top, but she sang and acted most expressively and Spiro Fernando as her Father fielded a rich bass-baritone together with a telling mix of dignity and sly humour.
Reviewed on 30 July 2017 | Image: Joe Armitage, Boneshaker Photography