Opera: Cabildo at Wilton's Music Hall


Julieth Lozano and Kieran Rayner in Cabildo at Wilton's Music Hall - Credit: Ali Wright

This charming one-hour chamber opera by American music pioneer Mary Beach was written in 1932 but not performed until 1947 - after her death.

Over the years it has been scandalously neglected, but this production by talented director Emma Jude Harris, which originated at the Arcola's Grimeborn Festival, does much to rectify the oversight and introduce it to a new audience.

A guide (the Barker) is conducting some American tourists round the Cabildo -  a grand government building in Louisiana that in 1812 held the pirate Pierre Lafitte as a prisoner awaiting execution.

The Barker pauses at a bleak cell and tells the group the tragic story of Lafitte and his love Lady Valerie. They are shepherded on to the next attraction, but newlywed Mary tarries, falls asleep … and dreams.

Lafitte (a convincing Kieran Rayner) has been found guilty of wilfully causing the sinking of his own ship which went down with Lady Valerie – all to cover up the supposed theft of her bracelet.

As Mary’s dream unfolds, Lafitte is visited by his lieutenant Dominique You (the impressive Zwakele Tshabalala) who shares a cunning scheme to get him out of jail, but only if Lafitte will help to fight the English.

Lafitte is heartbroken when he learns of Valerie's fate, but in a dramatic moment, she appears as a ghost and in an emotionally charged duet they declare their mutual love. The brilliant Julieth Lozano brings much passion and sympathy to both her character and her predicament with her lover.


Zwakele Tshabalala and Kieran Rayner in Cabildo at Wilton's Music Hall. - Credit: Ali Wright

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Jude Harris' production references Lafitte’s activities as a slave trader with some clever flourishes including the projected image on the rear wall that echoes Bristol’s Colston statue.

Although not instantly memorable, Beach's score is a clever concoction of folk, spirituals and Creole influences, perfectly delivered by The Del Mar Piano Trio. Design and lighting are supportive but not intrusive.

But it's the dramatic staging, excellent acting and singing that will linger in the memory. 4/5 Stars.