The classic film has been transformed into an opera, but what have critics been saying about it?
iNews: **** “Ballentine’s powerful tenor voice communicates all George’s frustration and kind-heartedness, as his plans of escaping the “crummy little town” of Bedford Falls are perpetually dashed. British soprano Jennifer France – ENO has always been so strong when it comes to promoting homegrown talent – makes spirited work of his loyal wife, Mary.”
The Guardian: **** “Gene Scheer’s libretto makes plenty of direct reference to the film, but the big change is that the angel who saves George from suicide, by showing him what the lives of those around him would be like if he had never existed, is no longer bumbling little old Clarence but young, goofy Clara. It’s a gift of a role for the megawatt soprano Danielle de Niese, who is on stage all the time as a gleeful, childlike presence, and whose soprano gleams as she finally gets her wings.”
The Telegraph: **** “This exuberant – and somewhat ironic – production updates Frank Capra’s beloved film while keeping his sharp wit intact.”
Culture Whisper: **** “Angels like Clara can dance on the head of pin over whether this is an opera or a musical. Thing is, doesn’t matter two hoots. Fabulous voices, smashing dance numbers that leave you wanting more, and big-hearted playing from the Orchestra of English National Opera under Nicole Paiement make for a good night out. And the Secretary of State for Culture should know that there’s nothing elitist about that.”
The Arts Desk: *** “Looking for a sparkly operatic musical, well sung and played, slick and saturated in a range of mainstream styles that stop short in the year the movie masterpiece It’s a Wonderful Life was released, 1946? Then Jake Heggie’s 2016 confection may be for you. One thing’s for sure, though: it may be trying to do something different from the Capra classic, and it’s welcome to have the Bailey family as African Americans, but this isn’t a patch on the rather more layered film.”
London Unattached.com: “It’s a Wonderful Life is a charming if saccharine story. Musically, Heggie’s score is accessible with broad appeal but for me lacks a showstopping number. English National Opera has staged an excellent interpretation which should work for everyone from dyed-in-the-wool opera lovers to families looking for light entertainment at Christmas. And, that’s some achievement.”
Opera today.com: “Frederick Ballentine’s glowing tenor conveyed Bailey’s driving ambitions and essential goodness. His final confrontation with his nemesis, Michael Mayes’ callous, calculating Henry F. Potter, was thrillingly fierce and tense. Jennifer France’s lusciously lyrical soprano was a perfect fit for Mary’s youthful optimism, and France managed to inject some character into the somewhat insipid role.”
Operaforall.co.uk: “Overall It’s a Wonderful Life is witty, fun, but somewhat cheesy and sanitised. It starts with a man on the verge of killing himself but never really explores the darker elements of the story. However, it is Christmas, and this feel-good opera is ideal for families; audiences will surely leave with a smile on their faces.”
Broadway World: **** “Frederick Ballentine leads with charisma and presence enough to fill a vast stage, his crystal clear tenor equally suited to the disappointment and despair as it is to the redemption and rejoicing that defines George Bailey’s narrative arc. He is beautifully supported by soprano, Danielle De Niese, as his guardian, Clara, an observer initially, not short of a wry comment or two, who intervenes at just the right moment. Feel free to insert your own ‘Voice of an Angel’ cliché here.”
The Stage: *** “Passionate performances drive the drama in a new work of rich orchestral colour”
It’s a wonderful Life Continues to play at the London Coliseum until the 10th December.