North East & YorkshireOperaReview

Opera on Location: The Prodigal Son- Kelham Island Museum, Sheffield

Reviewer: Sheila Stratford

Music: Claude Debussy

Librettist: Ashley Pearson

Director: Ashley Pearson

It is wonderful to experience live opera once again. This adapted production of Debussy’s prize winning L’enfant prodigue does not disappoint. Debussy wrote the piece as a young man and then in 1908 he re-orchestrated it. Coincidentally the revised work received its world premiere in Sheffield, conducted by no other than Henry Wood.

For this performance of The Prodigal Son George Morton has been commissioned by Opera on Location to re-orchestrate it for a ten- piece ensemble. Ashley Pearson’s new libretto in English replaces the original by Edouard Guinand and brings it very much into contemporary society.

The company have found the perfect and interesting venue for their first live performance since August 2019- the outdoor part-cobbled courtyard at Kelham Island Industrial Museum. It is amusing to think that as Debussy, the young impressionist composer, was penning the piece, Kelham Island would have been in full swing as an electrical generating site for Sheffield’s new tram system – technology now serving art.

In this production of The Prodigal Son the stage is set for a present-day barbecue and celebration of Lia’ s (Andrea Tweeddale) fiftieth birthday party, but there is an air of sadness. Her husband Siméon (Thomas D Hopkinson) tries to make everything perfect for his wife as she attempts to hide her unhappiness. She pines for her long-lost son, Azaël, with the moving refrain “How I wish I could make it right”. But Lia did not support her son when her husband would not accept him as gay.

The son Azaël (Gareth Lloyd) decides it is finally time to confront his parents. He is coming back to see them; not to change but to be accepted. His mother is overjoyed that he has returned but will the father be? Azaël sings, “Now I am back, I feel so nervous”. Ashley Pearson’s libretto certainly provides a modern and poignant expression to the story line.

Andrea Tweedale as the mother Lia is convincing in the way she portrays her sadness. Her lovely soprano voice is a fine match to the music. Gareth Lloyd’s as the son is a strong operatic tenor conveying his emotions superbly. Thomas D Hopkinson’s rich baritone is superb. His acting was a delight as he fusses to make it a great party for his wife and comforts her as they dance.

Performing an opera outdoors is always a challenge and the sound engineer needs to be congratulated for his skill in balancing the three voices so that no one voice dominated, particularly in the closing scene.

The four performances of this short, 40 minute one act opera were a sell-out but available to stream online from the 23rd August.2021.

Reviewed on 15th August 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Accessible, redemptive and uplifting.

The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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