Archives for posts with tag: Opera North

A decade or so ago Opera North staged their groundbreaking “Eight Little Greats” season of operatic “shorts”. The operas were “mixed and matched” so that audiences could put together their own combination of Double Bill. The project was hailed as a revolution in opera going. As an artistic concept, the Eight Little Greats created some of the most exhilarating evenings that I can recall in well over three decades of attending Opera North performances. The complexities of a three-year planning cycle for this astonishing festival of short self-contained operas no doubt lie behind the reasons why the venture has sadly never been repeated. Christopher Alden‘s visceral production of De Falla’s disturbing two-act “mini” opera La vida breve was paired back in 2004 with either Puccini’s Il tabarro or Zemlinsky’s The Dwarf – all three of them unremittingly dark pieces. I remember Germaine Greer enthusing on BBC2’s Newsnight review at the time: “If you give a damn, then see La vida breve. It’s a staggering work and it is staggeringly presented and performed”.

LA VIDA BREVE_OPERA NORTH,Salud; Anne-Sophie Duprels,La abuela; Elizabeth Sikora,Carmela; Beth Mackay,Paco; Jesús Álvarez,Manuel;  Gavan Ring,Uncle Salvador;  Brian Bannatyne_Scott,Singer; Quirijn de Lang,

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Opera North‘s first outing of Smetana’s foot-tappingly tuneful and characterful comedy The Bartered Bride dressed the piece in what might be loosely termed today as “pasted on” folksiness. I retain fond memories of Steven Pimlott’s previous 1981 production with its voluminous 19th Century frocks and tall hats. This was a traditional staging of its time, expected by the growing audience of a then new opera company not yet daring to court controversy.


The current production, directed by Daniel Slater and conducted by Oliver von Dohnányi, originally starred Alwyn Mellor as Mařenka, Niall Archer as Jenik and Clive Bayley as Kecal when it premiered at Leeds Grand Theatre in September 1998. The events precipitated by the removal of the Berlin Wall a decade earlier had irrevocably changed the face of eastern Europe. By the early 1990s the iron fist had been replaced by the Velvet Revolution in the (former) Czechoslovakia. Slater deliberately pre-dates the Gorbachev Glasnost era by setting his production in the still Communist dominated Czechoslovakia of the early 1970s – a decade of dubious fashions and even more dubious hairstyles – and only a few years after the Prague Spring had been ruthlessly crushed by Soviet tanks.

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Perish the thought, but I must have a horribly suspicious mind to suggest that the scale of forces required for early opera is behind Opera North‘s choice of this particular piece as a main house production; in these cash-strapped times, an economic driver as much as an artistic aspiration.

Contemporary realisations of the operas of Monteverdi are in no small part thanks to the advocacy of an esteemed scholar – the conductor Raymond Leppard – whose performing editions re-awakened interest in these neglected works. Three operas La favola d’Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, and Poppea – Monteverdi’s largest and grandest work – have been handed down more or less complete; in the case of Poppea – less rather than more.


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The decadence and glamour of Paris at the turn of the 19th Century is depicted in Alessandro Talevi‘s spiced-up new production of Verdi’s classic tear jerker. I say “spiced-up” because the atmosphere of Violetta’s Act l party scene is more redolent of an orgy in a bordello than the usual deceptively elegant and mannered gathering I have encountered in some productions. Guests in various states of dis-arranged dress (the young men are bare chested apart from scant waistcoats) can be seen in different coital positions moving to the rhythm of the music during Violetta’s celebrated showpiece “Sempre libera”. The audience is left in little doubt by the end of the act as to the nature of Violetta’s calling as a courtesan  – or upmarket prostitute – call her what you will.


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