It is the looks of pride and delight on the faces of the cast, particularly the young people, during the curtain calls which speak volumes about the immeasurably positive effects of opera.
There can be few more worthy uses of Arts Council England grants. Like many amateur opera groups, Blackheath Halls Community Opera hires professional directors and principal singers, filling smaller roles and bumping the orchestra with music students. But what makes it special is its embracing community involvement, working closely with local primary schools and special needs schools - not just preparing for performances (around 40 children and young people take part each night), but also on classroom exploration of opera (colourful artwork is displayed in the Halls foyer).
With its large crowd scenes and easy to follow (and relate to) love-tangle plot, Eugene Onegin proves an ideal follow-up to previous productions including Carmen. Director Harry Fehr transfers the action to fifties Corn Belt USA, allowing for ebullient Oklahoma!-esque chorus contributions. The Victorian hall space is used imaginatively - with audience seats along the walls and on the stage proper, the action mostly takes place on the expanse of central floor. When the hall first fills with the 100-odd bodies of enthusiastic-voiced (if female-heavy) adults and lively children, the effect is overwhelmingly joyous.
Nicholas Jenkins has drilled the chorus well and coaxes sympathetic accompaniment from the orchestra, although inevitably the string section lacks oomph in the big moments. The professional cast is headed by Kate Valentine's Tanya, radiant with optimistic innocence in the 'letter scene', and Nicholas Sharrat's tortured Lensky, with a splendidly resonant Act III aria from bass Andrew Greenan.
It is an enjoyable audience experience - but it is the looks of pride and delight on the faces of the cast, particularly the young people, during the curtain calls which speak volumes about the immeasurably positive effects of opera.