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Opera Omnia

Culture vulture Mavis Nobwarma has written in to commend the editorial team at blog for the uplift in tone evidenced in recent articles - particularly those concerning the Royal Dorset Opera and sundry related topics. "As an organ that can tend to get fixated on - not to say bogged-down in - the lewd and the lascivious, recent posts have shown a marked improvement suggesting that all involved have finally lifted their gaze from the gutter toward the empyrean [for an endorsement of this point of view see Peregrine Stoat [2021] "From tits to titans: a brief history of the blog", Threadbone Topical Pamphlets No 6]. How gratifying to one such as myself to be able to open my box every morning and not find something unwanted or unexpected lurking deep within it".

Mrs Nobwarma has significantly reinforced "this welcome change in the direction of travel" by sending us a copy of a Dorset County Opera programme from 1970. In doing so she has reminded us of an almost forgotten artistic enterprise the brief efflorescence of which significantly enriched the fledgeling Dorset cultural scene. An upstart rival to the better-established Dorset Royal Opera, the Dorset County Opera Company presented annual seasons between 1969 and 1971 at the Hippodrome Theatre, Seatown and pioneered opera in translation, offering theatre-goers the chance to hear well-known works in the local Dorset dialect [with English surtitles]. A risky undertaking - both financially and artistically - the short-lived experiment remains unique in the annals of regional arts provision.

Opera historian - Oprah Charter - says that, in retrospect, the Company was bound to struggle: its ambition "falling between the two stools of high artistic aspiration and pragmatic audience-seeking folksy popularism", adding that "it was always difficult to persuade singers of real distinction to learn parts in a language they would be unlikely ever to be called upon to sing in again. An exception was famous tenor Alfie Bone - a stalwart of the Company - whose dialect rendition of Dona non vidi mai [from Puccini's Manon Lescault] - "Aye ar'nt seen noone so perk as ee fine lasse" - will ever remain in the memories of those who heard it. Of course the scansion didn't remotely fit the tune but that's the price you pay for localised intelligibility".

The Company was, Ms Charter believes, an important, accessible and non-intimidating gateway to a whole world of music which shaped the tastes of a generation of enthusiasts, many of whom would later continue their cultural journey - some assembling notable collections of Andre Kostelanetz and Bert Kaempfert [the German André Rieu*] recordings as a direct result.

* The Dutch James Last

Sadly, the DCO experiment was short-lived as shaky finances, some doubtful artistic choices and a particularly disastrous production of Aida [with live sheep, goats and Dartmoor ponies] took their toll. The Company closed in 1971 and the Hippodrome was demolished in 1986 to make way for a Waitaminute superstore and carpark - a move some thought an improvement to local amenity, some thought a sign of the times and others failed to notice at all. No trace remains of the former palace of high culture, though fortunately a painting by local landscape artist - Kant du Peeple - now hanging in the Todber Gallery stands as a reminder of the artistic experiment it once housed and of the not-so-high ambition of which it was such an [un]enduring symbol.

Oil painting by Seatown artist Kant du Peeple depicting the now defunct and sadly demolished Hippodrome Theatre. monthly subscribers can download a facsimile of the complete Dorset County Opera Stravinsky Programme [HERE]. Others can try their luck - but with no guarantees.

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