Brilliant performances in three spring concerts

Birmingham Opera, Life Is A Dream, Argyle Works. Performances on until tomorrow (Saturday). Tickets: 0121 246 6644.Saint James’ Singers, Dreams of Deliverance, St Mary’s church, Warwick, March 24.Musica Sacra, Prelude to Passiontide, St Peter’s church, Leamington, March 25.

GIVE him a warehouse, 150 enthusiastic volunteer singers and actors from across the West Midlands, a strong narrative thread and some striking musical passages - and Graham Vick delivers the latest of his remarkably involving and hugely exciting operas.

Breathe and move around the space to catch the action taking place on walls, up and down a giant staircase, in and out of a Rover 400 and crashing through stage glass windows is the strong message to the regular punters.

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William Lacey’s orchestra is encased in a circle of staging and gives Jonathon Dove’s music well deserved, enthusiastic treatment. Alisdair Middleton’s words, based on an outstanding 17th century Spanish drama, are strongly sung by Eric Greene (Segismund) and Wendy Dawn Thompson (Rosaura). Segismund is falsely imprisoned by his father, the King of Poland, as a sage had forecast he would bring disaster to the country. Eventually freedom is offered but Segismund is unable to distinguish between fact and dream. A little bit of advance homework will help the evening action fit together.

Julian Harris, conductor of St James’s Singers, introduced quite different dreams in a programme he described as “slightly unusual”. Their Dreams of Deliverance - a tribute to Bach and his motets and to Tippett and his spirituals – was a fine opportunity for newish organist Mark Swinton to expose the genius of Bach playing the Chorale Prelude BWV 650 - mainly with his feet.

“All Bach is dance music” Harris claims; Jacqueline Johnson with her late 16th century cello thrilled a spellbound audience with the Cello Suite No 1 BWV 1007, the six dance movements a brilliant start to the second half of the evening.

St Peter’s hosted Southam’s Musica Sacra, Spires Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra and Adrian Moore with their own Prelude to Passiontide. Psalm 50 arranged by Francesco Masciangelo in the 19th century saw Robert Forbes (tenor) and Andrew Bell (bass baritone) combine well, supported by Keith Bowen (clarinet) and Rachel Misson (flute) with their significant solo contributions.

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With Easter almost upon us, here was the opportunity to sing Maunder’s Olivet to Calvary – something I haven’t done for 50 years as Stainer’s Crucifixion is much more frequently performed. Musica Sacra distinguished themselves with a thrilling March to Calvary.

Clive Peacock

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