Opera Scotland

Mansfield Park 2023Byre Opera

Read more about the opera Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park is an easily approachable contemporary operatic comedy with music by Jonathan Dove and libretto by Alasdair Middleton based on Jane Austen's novel of 1814.  It seems to be less popular than either its immediate successor, Emma or its predecessor, Pride and Prejudice.  However it has plenty of interest, even if the plotting can seem quite convoluted, at least for anyone unfamiliar with the source material.

Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park marries happily one of three sisters and has four children (the elder of the two sons falls by the wayside in Middleton's adaptation).  One sister marries a clerical friend of Sir Thomas, who is given a nearby 'living' in his gift.  However this rector dies, leaving the widowed sister 'Aunt Norris' an embittered and childless housekeeper at Mansfield.  Meantime the third sister, having eloped with a handsome Marine, has lived in miserable poverty, producing multiple children.  As the novel begins, the Bertrams bring one of these 'poor relations', the eldest child, Fanny Price, to live with them at Mansfield Park, partly for her family's benefit and partly to assist Mrs Norris.  Any resulting benefit to Fanny herself seems incidental.

The plot proceeds as Fanny observes the Bertrams as they grow up and enjoy various disastrous relations while being very much on the sidelines herself, unless seen as a plaything for one of their visitors, the Crawfords.  Eventually the good end happily and the bad unhappily (up to a point).

This is its second Scottish staging and very different from the first one on the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago.  Clearly the piece is strong enough to take a wide range of treatment styles. Here, the production by Tania Holland Williams considered the implications of a 21st century update.  Costumes were modern, with lots of glitter for the party scene.  Apart from Fanny the young characters are welded to their mobiles, and the big ensembles take place with the characters very much at arms length.

The opera was commissioned by Heritage Opera as a chamber work for performance in various buildings of appropriately stately style, and received its highly successful Scottish premiere by Edinburgh Studio Opera at Edinburgh Academy as part of the 2016 Fringe.  Dove's music is immdiately attractive, with short snatches of melody.  There are no arias as such, just short arietta movements which develop into duets.  There are a couple of quartets, involving Fanny, Edward and the Crawford siblings, and a big septet towards the end.  At times it does seem to contain reminders of Sondheim, and none the worse for that.

The staging was 'in the round' with a more complicated model than seen before at this superb venue.  One problem was that characters tended to face different directions from time to time.  Some words were inevitably lost. But this was still a most enjoyable enterprise  The musical preparation was supervised by Michael Downes, but the performers just kept their own time with the excellent piano duet. This was all hugely impressive.

Most of the singers were students based in St Andrews.  There were three main exceptions.  Sir Thomas was given a very strong performance by a chemistry graduate of a decade ago - how good that Ben McAteer should find time to return at all, never mind learning a new part just for three performances.  Lady Bertram was taken by Sarah Pring, a familiar name at Scottish Opera, Covent Garden and elsewhere,  They were both excellent.

A completely unknown young tenor appeared to play Henry Crawford, who attempts to seduce Fanny before decamping with Maria with disastrous results. Gabriel Seawright made an excellent cad.  Having played the role in a student production in Manchester he was familiar with the part already, though the staging may have been a bit different.

A great success, much enjoyed by the packed audience at the third performance - a Sunday matinee.

Performance Cast

Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park

Ben McAteer

Lady Bertram wife to Sir Thomas

Sarah Pring

Edmund Bertram the Bertrams' younger son

Brannon Liston-Smith

Maria Bertram the Bertrams' elder daughter

Pavlina Ivanova

Julia Bertram the Bertrams' younger daughter

Bonnie White

Mrs Norris a widow, sister to Lady Bertram

Sharonne Specker

Fanny Price niece to Lady Bertram and Mrs Norris

Rebecca Black

Mr Rushworth a wealthy, young and foolish gentleman

Liam Forrest

Henry Crawford a wealthy young gentleman

Gabriel Seawright

Mary Crawford Henry's sister

Rachel Munro

Performance DatesMansfield Park 2023

Map List

Laidlaw Music Centre | St Andrews

23 Jun, 19.30 24 Jun, 19.30 25 Jun, 14.30

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