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Tell Me the Truth about Love: Maria Jagusz (mezzo-soprano), Barrie Cooper (piano) and others; The Playhouse, Cheltenham, 10.2.2011. (RJ)

As couples sit down for their romantic dinners by candle-light on February 14th, some may be reminded of Lysander's words in A Midsummer Night's Dream: β€œThe course of true love never did run smooth.” This was the underlying theme of this intriguing miscellany of songs which encompassed the worlds of opera, operetta, lieder and musicals and focused on all aspects of love.

The evening took its name from a poem by W H Auden which Britten transformed into one of his cabaret songs. Expressing a forlorn quest to discover love, this is clearly a favourite of mezzo-soprano Maria Jagusz who sang it with style and humour and followed up it with another cabaret type number by David Baker entitled Someone is Sending me Flowers which had a sting in its tail.

I was expecting to hear far more of Maria during the evening, but this turned out to be less of a showcase for her considerable talents than for those of a number of mainly young professional and aspiring professional singers. While there were one or two performances which lacked polish, overall the standard was so good that I was not disappointed.

Louise Booker, for instance, gave a heartrending account of Che faro senza Eurydice from Gluck's Orfeo, and then changed in an instant to the Olga's carefree aria from Eugene Onegin. There was fine coloratura singing from Emma Burrows as the sorceress Morgana in Tornami a vagheggiar from Handel's Alcina – but even so, I would advise chaps to avoid love entanglements with sorceresses.

Most German Romantic poets seem to have experienced passionate and unhappy love affairs, as Richard Moore demonstrated so emphatically in
Ich grolle nicht from Schumann's Dichterliebe. But Jonathan Hyde also showed that love can have a calming effect in his quiet, gentle rendition of Schubert's Du bist die Ruh. If not, one always has recourse to the soothing power of music as Tabitha Haldane Unwin reminded us so persuasively in Art thou troubled from Handel's Rodelinda.

Most operettas and musicals have some love interest, so it would have been perverse not to incorporate them into the programme. It was especially pleasing to hear lesser known songs such as Lily's Eyes from The Secret Garden - a duet between two brothers who have fallen in love with the same girl sung impeccably by Owen Hopkins and Adam Treadaway. Earlier Owen's magnificent tenor voice had led the company with Anthem from the musical Chess.

Barrie Cooper kept the show on the road with his masterful accompaniments. Maria Jagusz was never far from the action compering with warmth and good humour and bringing a occasional hint of coquettishness to the proceedings – as in in Lehar's On my lips every kiss is like wine,. Just in case anyone in the audience was becoming too cosy, she blazed back in the finale to remind us in the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen that love is a wild, untameable force.

So did I learn the truth the truth about love during the performance? I have to confess I am more confused than ever about the whole business. Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.

Roger Jones

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