Venue, Oct 2011 (La Boheme, The Tobacco Factory)

…Opera Project is content to let the piece be… and with a young cast, Opera Project had a flying advantage; these Bohemians actually looked (and sounded) the part… There’s a real charm and innocence to Rodolfo’s first meeting with Mimi… conductor Jonathan Lyness’s reduction of the score for a dozen players is a triumph… the Cafe Momus Act 2 snapped into life with Catrin Aur’s shrewish Musetta flirting for all she was worth… She’s a telling foil to the creamy lyricism of Victoria Joyce’s fragile Mimi whose ill-fated trajectory is touchingly unfolded. As Rodolfo, Robyn Lyn Evans goes for the Italianate heft with gusto… James Cleverton’s Marcello impressed with a very human nobility and compassion – especially in the last act… ‘La Boheme’ ended with a gut-wrenching blow to the solar plexus – just as it must; the Tobacco Factory audience wrapped around the deathbed not as onlookers but participants.

The Times, 12 July 2011 (Falstaff, Longborough Festival Opera)

… Even in the more exposed passages of Tony Burke’s reduced orchestration the small band, conducted by Jonathan Lyness, foot it featly through Verdi’s caprice of a score… Gaynor Keeble’s handsome Mistress Quickly, Linda Richardson’s robust Alice Ford, Stephanie Lewis’s beautifully focused Meg Page and Helen Massey’s sweet and true Nanetta. Christopher Diffey’s Fenton is accomplished… Craig Smith’s Ford compellingly eloquent in his anger…

Opera Now, Jan/Feb 2010 (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Longborough Festival Opera)

The festival concluded with… a superb production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, conducted by Jonathan Lyness and designed and directed by Richard Studer. Studer and Lyness are long-term contributors to Longborough and seem to have hit their stride these last two years… a highly imaginative Vixen last year, and this beautiful staging of Britten’s fairy masterpiece. The set – honeycombs, giant bamboos, blossoming balloons and dry ice – was Studer’s triumph and a masterclass in what lighting can achieve, and the singers brought their own magic to the show.

Opera Now, Jan/Feb 2010 (Rigoletto, The Tobacco Factory)

This production, newly done for the Bristol Tobacco Factory by the touring company Opera Project… worked better than anyone would have been reasonably entitled to expect. Punchily compact and bristling with malevolence… simple but eloquent as costume statements go, it signalled that this Ducal court played hard and mean… With this kind of compactness the action becomes one-on-one, close-up and personal. There were fiercely charged exchanges here between the singers… But the unquestioned star of the show was a Gilda, Victoria Joyce, whose purity of sound and touching presence would have graced far grander stages than this: a beautifully judged, elegant, and technically complete performance. Jonathan Lyness conducted his own reduced orchestration with emphatic staying power, extracting big sound from his little band. It made a memorable evening…

Opera Now, Nov/Dec 2009 (Did and Aeneas, Pyramus and Thisbe, West Green House)
[Yvonne] Kenny has become the resident star feature of West Green shows, which tend to be bespoke productions brought in from the excellent small-scale touring company Opera Project. And this year, built around her, came a new and rather sumptuous Dido and Aeneas… It was tasteful, charming and (as intended) a good vehicle for Kenny… with fine support from a Belinda (Ruby Hughes) who only graduated this year… but has already won the London Handel Festival voice competition and for good reason. With glistening clarity that was a joy to hear, Hughes also turned up in the other half of the double-bill… as Pyramus, the promising young Nicky Spence: a wonderfully assured and eloquent light tenor with good comic sense and bags of personality. Both shows were directed with panache by Richard Studer and impressively conducted from the harpsichord by Jonathan Lyness: the two people who, in effect, are Opera Project and have been so for an unbelievable 16 years now. Good to report them growing rather than diminishing in stature.

Bristol Evening Post, 14 Oct 2009 (Rigoletto, The Tobacco Factory)

Presenting grand opera in a chamber setting requires expert use of space and excellent balance between musicians and singers. Director/designer Richard Studer made sure that the production was up to standard… conductor Jonathan Lyness ensured that the company had the best of musical backing. Vocally and dramatically the cast were in fine form. Simon Thorpe as Rigoletto and Victoria Joyce as Gilda blended together in a manner that made you believe they really were father and daughter. Passion and deep seated love came from their every phrase and reaction. Nicholas Ransley’s Duke of Mantua, sung with lovely, sharp diction, displayed just the right amount of devious charm to deceive a naïve young girl and entice a more experienced woman like Maddalena.

Opera, Sep 2009 (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Longborough Festival Opera)

It was astutely directed by Richard Studer, who also designed the clever set. A backcloth of hexagons and fantastic trees which grew before our eyes supplied the magic of the wood. The costumes mixed the fashion worlds of Elizabeths I and II. Jonathan Lyness conducted a splendid account of the glittering score, with its eerie harp writing, agile woodwind and percussive gamelan effects.

The Guardian, 8 July 2009 (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Longborough Festival Opera)

Benjamin Britten’s opera is almost 50 years old, but Richard Studer’s staging for Longborough seizes with typical inventiveness on its timeless engagement with the supernatural. And, on a hot summer’s night in the country, the work still casts a spell.
Since Studer directs, designs and costumes the show, all his ideas are logically integrated and, although at first the set’s shiny tubular construction appeared starkly functional, the background of honeycomb lit by Wayne Dowdeswell in relentlessly wild colours gave the cue for details from the natural world conjuring up the gossamer of a fairy domain.
With Oberon and Tytania and their attendants sporting neck ruffs and Elizabethan ballooned shorts, and the mechanicals dressed as Morris men, Studer pays deft homage to Shakespeare and Englishness. Conductor Jonathan Lyness was equally faithful to the period references in Britten’s clearly defined sound worlds, with the music for fairies, lovers and rustics often beautifully realised with fine brass and wind playing.

The Oxford Times, 8 July 2009 (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Longborough Festival Opera)

Richard Studer’s new production of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Longborough Festival Opera was a pleasingly enchanting spectacle; the fairies’ silver costumes sparkled magically in a modernistic but nonetheless dream-like setting, in which Chinese lanterns rose from the ground to represent trees, lengthy drapes were used to create Tytania’s bower, and Wayne Dowdeswell’s inspired lighting did some wonderful things to the honeycomb backdrop. The stunning acrobatics of Greville Matthews’s Puck at the beginning of each act added to the sense of looking into a magical world… Helen Massey gave a vibrant and intelligent interpretation of Tytania… The four quarrelsome lovers were strongly portrayed… while Gaynor Keeble gave a memorable performance as the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta. But it was the antics of the Mechanicals – portrayed in this production as Morris dancers – who provided the real entertainment. Mark Saberton was outstanding as a larger-than-life Bottom… Jonathan Lyness conducted with flair and passion, ensuring a glorious and sympathetic articulation of Britten’s richly varied score.

Venue, 24 Oct 2008 (Tosca, The Tobacco Factory)

Director Richard Studer has some cunning solutions to the logistics of cutting ‘Tosca’ down to ‘Factory’ size… Amanda Echalaz’s thrillingly sung Tosca is worth the ticket price alone, but then it’s a tightly-cast bit of work all round. Simon Thorpe’s Scarpia isn’t Hammer Horror menacing, more a sort of Alistair Campbell with attitude, a strong hand on the levers of manipulation, and Simon Wilding’s Angelotti catches the ear. With Jonathan Lyness’s imaginative re-orchestration and supple yet taut conducting, this is a ‘Tosca’ that has to be seen.

Opera Now, Nov/Dec 2008 (Die Fledermaus, West Green House)

West Green’s punters had a real treat here… a production specially made for the House by that most resourceful of small touring companies Opera Project, with wickedly outrageous sets by the director Richard Studer, glorious 1920s costumes and a valiant little orchestra of single strings and wind quintet, conducted with real flair by Jonathan Lyness… Yvonne Kenny’s overwhelmingly impressive solo spot… there were very good performances […], notably from Nicholas Sharratt whose Alfred was a vigorously singing, vaguely heterosexual Kenneth Williams, and Jane Harrington whose Adele […] had all the makings of a superb singing-actress: funny, sharp, and full of life – which was in fact the case with all the cast.

Opera Now, Nov/Dec 2008 (Cunning Little Vixen, Longborough Festival Opera)

…an extremely stylish Vixen… This was operatic imagery at its best and just one example of how well Richard Studer staged this most curious opera. It was musically glorious too with Studer’s long-term collaborator Jonathan Lyness drawing a gorgeous sound from the reduced chamber score by Tony Burke.

Opera, Sep 2008 (Cunning Little Vixen, Longborough Festival Opera)

The Vixen was produced and magically designed by Richard Studer with an inspired feeling for fantasy and the ferocity of nature… The orchestra played brilliantly and well deserved its ovation. A talented cast was led by the vivacious and captivating Ella Kirkpatrick…

The Guardian, 7 July 2008 (Cunning Little Vixen, Longborough Festival Opera)

…in a strong ensemble cast, Ella Kirkpatrick’s nubile Vixen, Paul Keohone’s Forester and Andrew Rees’s Schoolmaster are notable, but it is conductor Jonathan Lyness’s muscular grasp of the score that makes the evening worthwhile…

The Daily Telegraph, 4 July 2008 (Cunning Little Vixen, Longborough Festival Opera)

Paul Keohone (Forester) and Ella Kirkpatrick (Vixen) led an energetic cast, while Jonathan Lyness conducted Tony Burke’s reduced version of the score with dash.

The Times, 1 July 2008 (Cunning Little Vixen, Longborough Festival Opera)

Richard Studer’s new staging of Vixen is perfectly attuned to Longborough’s village-show-meets-grand-opera ethos. What I like about this production, and particularly about the incisively sung Vixen of Ella Kirkpatrick, is the notably unsentimental way in which this inexorable and eternal cycle is presented…

Opera Now, Jan/Feb 2008 (Carmen, The Tobacco Factory)

The Tobacco Factory is claustrophobic, cramped, like the between-decks of a ship. But Opera Project, the amazingly resourceful touring company that did this show, knows how to make the most of awkward circumstances… the ensemble singing was so strong that nothing felt very obviously missing… with just 12 singers and 12 instruments playing a reduced orchestration by the conductor Jonathan Lyness, it had the energy and guts to bypass those little censors in the back of your brain that would otherwise demand more luscious textures… the director Richard Studer came up with some entertainingly original production ideas… a sparkling little show, robust and vigorous and swept along with brisk but well-controlled speeds. I enjoyed it.

Opera Now, Nov/Dec 2007 (Italian Girl in Algiers, West Green House)

‘cleanly directed and designed by Richard Studer, sharply conducted by Jonathan Lyness’

Opera Now, Nov/Dec 2007 (L’Heure Espagnole, West Green House)

‘elegantly done with big, bold clockface designs and an ingeniously abstract take on the technical problem of shunting Concepcion’s hidden suitors around the stage… the suitors were a joy, especially Wyn Pencarreg’s richly sung Don Inigo. The orchestra, playing a reduction authorised by Ravel himself, played with hip-swinging passion under Jonathan Lyness.’

Opera Now, Jan/Feb 2007 (The Turn of the Screw, The Tobacco Factory)

‘This outstanding little show was unsettling to a degree, thanks to effective lighting and some poised but highly charged performances. Like all Opera Project shows it was directed by Richard Studer and conducted by Jonathan Lyness, who are by now as experienced at putting together this kind of bare-bones touring show as anyone could be. They make it work, they deliver with punchy, impactful theatre, and they cast with strength…’

Opera Now, Nov/Dec 2006 (Don Giovanni, West Green House)

‘The pace and urgency was breathless… there was real exchange between the characters. Masetto’s hurt, Zerlina’s curiosity, Ottavio’s awkward solace, Leporello’s seizing on whatever momentary escape from powerless might come his way… it all delivered.’

Opera Now, Nov/Dec 2005 (Benjamin Britten’s The Beggar’s Opera, West Green House)

‘The impact of this bustling little show was extraordinary: full of life and lusty humour… and especially impressive in its handling of one critical factor: pace. The persistent alternation of speech and song can so easily drag as the voices adjust from one mode to the other and the orchestra wake up with a jolt to the fact that they’re on again. But here the conductor Jonathan Lyness achieved a near-seamless flow, and the director Richard Studer kept things moving too – on a small stage with a single set whose black and white etched design owed something to the memory of David-Hockney’s classic Rake’s Progress. Which was fair enough. Nicholas Smith made a wirily attractive Macheath, Margaret Rapacioli a ravishing Polly, and the rest of the cast were the very paradigms of robust elegance that the piece demands – as was the 12-man band which managed Britten’s tough, exposed and edgy instrumental writing with panache.’

Opera Now, Nov/Dec 2005 (La Bohème, Longborough Festival Opera)

‘The pleasure of La Bohème lay firstly in the cohesion of the staging, which was both directed and designed by the Opera Project’s Richard Studer. This was a taut and thoroughly enjoyable production, and the intelligence of the direction was matched by some first-rate string detail and numerous small touches – comic flutes for the landlord, Benoit, for instance, or a wonderful pianissimo for Mimì’s agonised first collapse – from the generally impressive Longborough orchestra, from which Jonathan Lyness drew some excellent playing. The garret antics were cleverly finessed, making full use of Studer’s stylish but agreeably uncluttered set, and full of nuanced detail, with Paul Keohone’s strongly delivered Marcello… the Rodolfo-Mimi exchanges revealed a marked warmth and tenderness: both shone vocally in the ravishing duets. Judith Gardner Jones was a nicely sympathetic Musetta. A highlight was the quartet at the end of Act III, which came across superbly; and following some imaginatively choreographed highjinks, Mimì’s death scene in Act IV was beautifully managed.’

Opera Now, Nov/Dec 2004 (Falstaff, Iford Festival)

‘a genuine theatrical experience from cut-down forces… the energy was undeniable. And there were genuine voices here, especially the Ford: a sturdy, strong but honey-toned young baritone called Adam Green whose singing stole the show. Nick Sharratt made a beautifully ardent, animated Fenton, and his kissing duets with Nanetta (Rebecca Ryan) were one of the few occasions when I’ve seen these characters on stage and really believed they were in love… Lyness held the whole performance together like a master. If you ever come across this group doing their summer rounds, don’t hesitate to go and see them. They’re one massive cut above the average’

New York Times, Aug 2004

‘one of the best small-scale touring companies in Britain’

The Sunday Telegraph, 18 July 2004 (Madama Butterfly, Longborough Festival Opera)

‘What I believe to be Puccini’s finest opera was extremely well performed. Jonathan Lyness conducted with passion and sensitivity and although he must have yearned for a larger body of strings, the festival orchestra played with finesse. Balance between pit and stage in this small theatre was admirable and the words came across with exceptional clarity. The greatest, noblest and most tragic of Puccini’s crushed heroines was portrayed with dignity and poignancy by Melinda Hughes. She had vocal power in the big climaxes and sustained the emotional impact of Act II without faltering. She also brought subtle control of dynamics to her singing of the text, which she delivered with expressive understanding… Craig Smith was a sympathetic Sharpless, Michael Bennett an outstanding Goro and the mezzo Cari Searle as Suzuki showed herself the possessor of essentially the best voice on stage. Richard Studer’s simple Japanese-house was all that is needed and his production wisely let the action take its course with minimal directorial intervention.’

Opera, Oct 2002 (Albert Herring, Iford Festival)

‘The Opera Project’s staging of Albert Herring – its first attempt at Britten and Iford’s too – worked very well indeed. There was inevitably some major scaling-down in terms of design, but it was so neatly accomplished by the director-designer, Richard Studer, that there was no sense of deprivation or compromise, only sharpening of the focus. Props were minimal, but went for maximum impact. There was a real sense of the claustrophobia and hypocrisy of village life, making the censorious tactics of Lady Billows et al. seem altogether more sinister than usual. The Opera Project’s cast was generally very strong, with ensemble work slickly engineered… his [Edward Lyon’s] handling of Albert’s long monologue in the second scene of Act 2 was artful and assured… Lyon made of him an entirely believable character… it was an indication of the sympathy that Lyon engendered for Albert that the collective threnody at his supposed death was quite so affecting. Just for a second, it was possible to believe that Britten and Crozier were making a tragedy of the whole thing… but it gave the humour and gentle satire of the final ensemble a real warmth. All credit then to the Opera Project’s music director, Jonathan Lyness, for balancing the parody and the emotion with such a deft touch.’

The Independent on Sunday, 12 September 1999 (La Bohème, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital)

‘La Bohème was done by a small touring company called Opera Project whose praises I sang about a year ago and who continue to count among the best enterprise of their kind around. Directed by Richard Studer, conducted by Jonathan Lyness, and with serious-impact singers, it was truly touching if not pretty damned heroic, given the conditions. And above all, it was just what opera should be doing: serving the community.’

Country Life, Aug 1999 (Così fan tutte, Doddington Place, Kent, in aid of the KAB)

‘It was compelling enough to entrance my nine-year old from start to finish. It was deceptively simple. It was fun. It was a triumph. It was the future of opera.’

The Independent on Sunday, 2 Aug 1998 (Don Giovanni, Iford Festival)

‘I’ve rarely felt so physically involved in a performance… the presentation was so keenly alive’