World Première of Kommilitonen! reviews: March 2011

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ new opera Kommilitonen!, which is a joint commission between the Royal Academy of Music and The Juilliard School, premiered at the Royal Academy on March 18th 2011.

The Guardian gave the production a rare 5 stars and calls it “immaculate”: “The students under Jane Glover are remarkable, too. The chorus works tirelessly; the main roles are double cast, but on the first night Marcus Farnsworth as Meredith, Aoife Miskelly as the student Sophie Scholl and John-Owen Miley-Read as the Gestapo’s Grand Inquisitor all demand special mention.”

The Evening Standard also gave it 5 stars and called it “a bold and beautiful assertion of the transformative power of truth”. It added: “The stories unfold simultaneously in short, punchy vignettes. Director and composer revel in this smorgasbord approach. Pountney – aided by the brilliant puppeteers Blind Summit – conjures up wondrous, diverse theatrics: an eight-metre status of Mao is erected before our eyes, a literal puppet tribunal dances its verdict to Thirties swing.”

The Financial Times (4 stars) said it was “imaginative” and “inspired” and added: “The music works with exemplary theatrical skill; Maxwell Davies has coloured his score with snatches of American roots music, German art song and brassy Chinese marches without ever losing sight of the opera’s unifying goal.” “The singing was consistently good – Marcus Farnsworth, Aoife Miskelly and Katie Bray stood out as the lead characters in each story – and the Royal Academy of Music Sinfonia under conductor Jane Glover gave its best in Maxwell Davies’s imaginative orchestral writing.”

The Times also gave the opera 4 stars and commented: “Pountney’s staging and Robert Innes Hopkins’s designs match the libretto in ingenuity. The settings briskly metamorphose. Props, too: a pool hall’s green baize in Mississippi ends up as a grass for the Munich students’ picnic. Graduate students, forcefully conducted by Jane Glover, pitch in with vocal lustre; the stand-outs were Marcus Farnsworth’s Meredith and Aoife Miskelly, brightly ringing as the Munich student Sophie Scholl.”

The Daily Telegraph said it was a “triumph”, adding: “The narrative was clear, the structure strong, with several budget-conscious but impressively dramatic coups. And the result outclassed anything I’ve seen on a college stage in years, inspiring wonderful performances all round.

“Kommilitonen! is an ensemble piece that prioritises collective singing – which from start to finish was magnificent. But there were also memorable and vivid solo roles from Aoife Miskelly, Jonathan McGovern, Katie Bray, Andrew Dickinson and Johnny Herford among a teeming cast, who all deserve mention, led by a conspicuously shining star in Marcus Farnsworth who sang the role of the black student Meredith with classic dignity and elegance.”

The Telegraph: “Pountney has put together an admirably effective and inventive production and Jane Glover conducts a enthusiastic orchestra with aplomb. The overall standard of singing is high – the White Roses Aoife Miskelly, Johnny Herford and Andrew Dickinson stood out – and it speaks well of the RAM’s opera school that so many healthy young voices are on display”. “If there are comparable principal protagonists in the other plots, one is the soprano Aoife Miskelly (Nazi-resistant Sophie Scholl), who has a similarly confident, lieder-clear style to Farnsworth. Sophie is the prima inter pares of a quintet of students playing a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with a Munich populus sleepwalking into National Socialism. All five act with a convincing, endearing heightened sense of life – the agitation of adrenalin and self-claimed Freiheit”.

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