All bets are off when York Opera with its 45-strong chorus pile on to the small stage at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre to perform Purcell’s seminal chamber-opera Dido and Aeneas.

Wagnerian in scope though it was, the chorus was well rehearsed and rhythmically tight, but drew focus from the main characters. Some tuning issues in the pit were, however, offset by the ornate and lyrical harpsichord playing of Tim Tozer.

A difficult beginning gave way to a more confident performance, spurred on by good solid choruses “so fair the game” and “Haste! Haste!”.

Ian Thompson-Smith’s Aeneas was sensitive, manly and rich, Rosie Jamieson’s Sorceress rustic and well posed. Catherine Thornton’s Dido was emotive, steady and confident, ending on a careful and heartfelt When I Am Laid.

Staging was minimal but effective, relying on lighting and the vast chorus to provide scenery. Choreography was tricky on the small stage but effective and contextually well thought out.

Britten’s Gloriana: The Choral Dances is unusual but eminently suited to what York Opera does best. Chorus was tight, enthusiastic and fresh.

It was a delight to see young members to the fore performing the dance. Rustic setting and more suitable choir staging showcased well the community spirit of York Opera and the whole production emanated the joy members feel in taking part.

Edwin German and Basil Hood’s Merrie England, an unusually patriotic number, was a showcase of who’s who in York Opera.

Prominent was president Clive Goodhead, lending his confident and engaging baritone to The Earl Of Essex, soprano Hilary Dyson playing Bessie Throckmorton and Hamish Brown lending a fresh, bright tenor to Sir Walter Raleigh.

Particularly enjoyable was an extremely tight quintet, a patriotic number lead by Clive Goodhead and a solo/chorus exchange describing the wedding of Robin Hood. In Merrie England, York Opera was in its element.

York Opera is a group well worth supporting, especially for the enthusiasm of its members.

York Opera, Music Fit For A Queen, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, tonight at 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568

Edward Caine