A round-up of reviews for English National Opera’s production of It’s a Wonderful Life at the London Coliseum.
This family friendly opera makes its UK debut, playing until 10 December 2022 at the London Coliseum.
Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s operatic adaptation of the genre-defining Frank Capra film of the same name, It’s a Wonderful Life sees down-on-his-luck banker George Bailey (Frederick Ballentine) feel like life has passed him by. So when his guardian angel (Danielle de Niese) pays him a visit, George is shown what life in his beloved Bedford Falls would be like without him in it: maybe it’d be a little less wonderful after all?
Aletta Collins makes her ENO debut directing and choreographing, with regular Heggie collaborator Nicole Paiement conducting the ENO Chorus and Orchestra alongside the all-star cast, which includes Gweneth Ann Rand, Jennifer France, Michael Mayes and more.
More reviews of It’s a Wonderful Life to follow.
It's A Wonderful Life reviews
"The Christmas miracle that should save the ENO"
"Let’s hope the Arts Council, which recently announced the bizarre defunding of English National Opera, has booked tickets"
"[Jake] Heggie, together with librettist Gene Scheer, has made fine festive work of his adaptation, without shying away from any of the power and difficulty of the story. It’s a Wonderful Life is always darker than you remember it."
"This is a timely production on multiple levels, firstly reminding everyone who might have forgotten that seeing good opera in a packed and excited auditorium at the magnificent Coliseum is one of the jewels in London’s cultural crown. Let’s hope that the Arts Council, which recently announced the bizarre defunding of English National Opera, has booked tickets. The beleaguered ENO would, like the hero George Bailey, greatly benefit from a guardian angel reminding them, and everyone else, of how much poorer life would be if they had never existed."
"Heggie and Scheer have reframed the narrative so that we experience it through the eyes of Clara, Angel Second Class, who hasn’t yet earned her wings. Soprano Danielle de Niese is a delight in the role, given that she is a lively actress as well as a splendid singer."
"Operatic adaptation is on the side of the angels"
"Jake Heggie’s take on the heartwarming Christmas classic has a glittering, melodic score with a gift of a role for soprano Danielle de Niese as goofy guardian angel Clara"
"Now Jake Heggie’s opera of It’s a Wonderful Life, premiered in Houston in 2016, has made it across the pond to the Coliseum, where its story of Christmas hope amid thwarted dreams seems pertinent as English National Opera fights for survival."
"Some will wish for more teeth in his music – after all, there’s plenty of bitterness in the beloved 1946 film on which the opera is based. Indeed his glittery, melodic score is at its best when its default sweetness gets an unsettling spanner in the harmonic works..."
"Aletta Collins’s staging for ENO tells the story clearly under a canopy of stars; video effects make the angels’ galactic home morph into an earthly blizzard and back again."
"This is a vital opera company at the top of its game, facing a future in which it no longer exists: now it needs angels."
"ENO faces down possible extinction with a feel-good Christmas opera"
"This exuberant – and somewhat ironic – production updates Frank Capra's beloved film while keeping his sharp wit intact"
"For a company looking over this vertiginous edge to produce an exuberant show with the (in this case) ironic title of It’s a Wonderful Life is pretty smart."
"Heggie had the advantage of a librettist in Gene Scheer who was not afraid to tamper with the original, and to shape it as a feel-good opera, adding more angels, and removing several of Capra’s darker scenes while keeping his sharpness and wit."
"... Heggie and Scheer’s cleverest stroke, to turn the elderly male angel Clarence from the film into the glamorous angel Clara, works a treat, especially as Danielle de Niese’s extrovert presence and rhapsodic voice is ideal – she is onstage throughout, controlling the stage movement by taking her hat off, and swings aloft vertiginously in the finale."
"Nicole Paiement conducts with a good understanding of the eclectic idiom: but even though it’s effective and enjoyable, I can’t quite see It’s a Wonderful Life establishing a regular foothold in the repertory here."
"Passionate performances drive the drama in a new work of rich orchestral colour"
"Jake Heggie’s operas include the highly successful Dead Man Walking, but this struggles to establish a compelling voice. The word-setting feels surprisingly shapeless and rambling, with interest evoked more often in rich orchestral colours than vocal drama. There are moments of true ardour, notably Jennifer France singing radiantly as George’s wife, and Michael Mayes ideally malevolent as evil capitalist Potter. And the largely Black cast of principals and the ENO chorus make every moment of their stage time count."
"Music’s return for the finale is vigorously heartwarming. But the sense of a dramatic target not fully hit is hard to escape."
"an enchanting Christmas show"
"Jake Heggie’s opera takes the beloved film and lightens some of its darker moments"
"Whether the opera can rescue ENO from its own life-threatening crisis is open to question. It is “family-friendly”, as advertised, unashamedly sentimental and not too long (though it feels longer). What it lacks is narrative drive, especially in the first half, which is slow to get a grip. Even George’s attempted suicide near the start goes for little."
"The opera certainly ups the Christmas tinsel quota. The film’s elderly male angel Clarence has become Clara, played by glamorous, stage-savvy Danielle de Niese, and she is accompanied by a quartet of youthful angels, including some of ENO’s young Harewood Artists, who sing out from a star-spangled sky. The darker elements of the story are played down, except when Michael Mayes cuts through the sweetness as George’s nemesis, Henry F Potter."
"Well-crafted show is just a little too sickly sweet"
"On the brink of oblivion, with its public subsidy withdrawn from next April, ENO must also be praying that an angel suddenly appears and proves what a difference it has made to people’s lives. I am not sure this lumbering, saccharine show is the best evidence of that."
"Admittedly, Heggie’s score, efficiently conducted by Nicole Paiement, is well-crafted and ingratiatingly melodious. He is a serious composer (Dead Man Walking, set on death row, was his previous opera), but here he takes his stylistic cues from vaudeville, barbershop and Broadway — the soundtrack of early 20th-century America, with echoes of everything from Stephen Foster and Irving Berlin to Richard Rodgers — and cloaks it all in an over-elaborate orchestration that becomes cloying."
"Meanwhile, Scheer sticks fairly closely to Capra’s dialogue, while changing the sex of the angel (if that’s even possible, theologically) and thus creating a gift of a part for an exuberant soprano such as Danielle de Niese. She is on stage almost throughout and gives a performance of megawatt charm."