The Agape Miracle Church (Washed in the Blood of Jesus) has hired a room above the Albanian car wash business. Their room can hardly be large, yet they have found it necessary to amplify their repetitive four-chord gospel songs to booming level down the street on a Sunday. The services are long and when the droning choruses run out of steam, a preacher grabs the microphone and harangues his brothers and sisters, that those who will not come to the Lord and be born again, who refuse to put on clothes of righteousness and sanctify themselves with fire of the holy spirit, and who deny that they are fornicators coveting their brothers' wives, are surely all sinners destined for perdition. The service began just as we - Mrs Jones, the A level candidate, the singing cellist and myself - had just sat down to Sunday lunch in the garden because it was warm enough for the first time this year. After an hour, a neighbour came round with a petition that she intended to send to the Noise Abatement Society, who, she discovered, did not work on a Sunday when you most need them. 'We can't hear oursselves think,' she said. 'God's got a lot to answer for.'
The opera Lucio Silla, written when Mozart was 16, is the Classical Opera Company’s spring offering at Cadogan Hall. It needs cutting, yet conductor Ian Page and co removed only the second interval which was there because the indulgent Leopold and others hadn’t the courage to teach the teenager the lessons of concision and restraint. ‘Too many notes’ Salieri is supposed to have said and here he was right. It’s a static concert-performance, the chorus sitting patiently at the back throughout awaiting their summary numbers at the end of each half, the five soloists trotting on from the sides to cling to music stands at the front of the stage. They could have been more adventurous; just because it's opera-in-concert doesn't mean you have to stand statue-still to sing. The enormous amount of music to learn robbed the four soprano soloists - two of them castrati in 1772 - of time to work the many coloratura runs into their voices and none was managed with perfect control. The ‘Welsh’ soprano Natalya Romaniw (she represented the Principality at the 2009 Cardiff Singer of the World competition) had most presence as she smouldered her defiance of the Roman consul Silla. There’s an unusual hardness in her voice which will be thrilling when used with plenty of light and shade, but she sang mostly forte and above, and we longed for the rare beauty of her steely whisper. The tenor in the title role, Anthony Gregory, alone performed as if he had assumed a role, but he hadn’t the opportunity to let himself down with extensive challenging runs, as Mozart had had to compensate for the original selection who turned out to be ‘only a local church tenor’. The orchestra played with bounce and alertness, despite some abrupt brasses and a continuo which started to assume the predictability of a football results announcer as it followed the cadences of the recitative. It was educational to hear this work in its entirety, although the Classical Opera Company should not value its responsibility to research above its remit to entertain, for that way lies audience loss.