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As the business focus of London has moved eastwards, so the arts are tentatively following. The fashionably dusty and unrenovated Wilton’s Music Hall, just to the east of Tower Hill, is increasingly on the radar of the classical music audience, not least thanks to hosting some events in the summer Spitalfields Festival.
Last week it provided a temporary home for the Classical Opera Company with the latest instalment in its complete cycle of Mozart’s stage works. Wilton’s may not be the most elegant stand-in for the Archbishop of Salzburg’s palace, where Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots had its premiere, but the scale was just right.
The youthful voices were not unduly stretched – Allan Clayton, soon to be Glyndebourne’s Albert Herring, sounds a promising tenor and Sophie Bevan made much of the lead soprano role, while there was very decent support from the other three in the cast, tenor Robin Tritschler and sopranos Madeleine Pierard and Rebecca Ryan – and the company’s small band of a dozen musicians filled the hall with its lithe playing under the company’s artistic director, Ian Page.
Officially, Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots is classified as an oratorio, not an opera. It was written to be performed in Lent, when theatres were closed, and it is easy to imagine how its light-hearted religious allegory appealed to the 11-year-old Mozart. He supplied a series of graceful and lively arias for it – no match for his mature self, of course, but the equal of any other composer writing in the 1760s, including the ones in long trousers.
This production gave the piece a modern edge. A new English version by Nigel Lewis – hence the title “The First Commandment” – was delightfully sharp, adding a quick wit missing from the original.
It was a clever idea to get students at the Royal College of Arts to enter possible designs in a competition, but Bill Bankes-Jones’s updated comic scenario was almost too adolescent to be funny. The original plot has three Christian spirits trying to guide a lost soul. Here they became air crew attendants offering salvation in the form of a weekend break in Ibiza, which suggested that the moral compass of the work had gone completely haywire.