Full of intensity and comedy, Opera North’s Double Bill was certainly a treat for both the regular opera-goer and those new to the scene, providing an evening of high quality entertainment. Although linked by the theme of the new rising from the old, The Rite of Spring and Gianni Schicchi were incredibly different performances: the first a series of choreographed dances and the second a comedic operatic short. However, they came together to complement one another, the energy and talent of the Orchestra of Opera North maintained throughout.
The Rite of Spring marks the first ever collaboration between Opera North and the internationally-renowned Phoenix Dance Theatre; Jeanguy SAINTUS’ new contemporary choreography set to Stravinsky’s innovative score. Conductor Garry Walker and the Orchestra of Opera North excelled themselves, doing the music justice with its dissonant and dramatic qualities that caused such a scandal in its 1913 premiere in Paris.
“There were moments, such as during The Sacrifice episode, when they enacted such unnatural convulsions for extended periods that it was fairly uncomfortable yet hypnotic to watch”
The piece featured a diverse troupe of eight dancers who performed, almost continuously, for forty minutes. I was incredibly impressed by their stamina, Jeanguy SAINTUS’ reimagined choreography pushing their bodies to the limits. There were moments, such as during The Sacrifice episode, when they enacted such unnatural convulsions for extended periods that it was fairly uncomfortable yet hypnotic to watch. Although there were times when they weren’t as in-sync and slick as I would have hoped, you could hear the dancers breathing and see the sweat pouring off them by the end showing that they were clearly putting their heart and soul into it.
“This made for an enthralling performance, the use of a black backdrop and white spotlights for most of the performance letting us fully appreciate the power of the dancing and wonderful music”
I loved the simplicity of the performance both in terms of the costume and setting. They began by wearing plain white ruffled one-pieces and as the dance progressed, so did the costume with the addition of red and green gloves, that gave the illusion of painted hands, and attachable white skirts, each one with a different brightly-coloured underside. This gave a unity to the performance, the costume team, Yann Seabra and Emma Louise James, succeeding in drawing attention to their individual bodies and movements whilst making them appear even less human and more like one entity. This made for an enthralling performance as the use of a black backdrop and white spotlights allowed us to fully appreciate the power of the artistic performance.
After a fairly long interval (and some complimentary wine), we returned to our seats for the second performance of the night: Puccini’s sardonic comedy Gianni Schicchi. Based on a brief episode in Dante’s Divine Comedy, Gianni Schicchi was sung in Italian with English titles and changed my expectations of the opera form with its modern twists and humour.
Following the death of the rich Florentine, Buoso Donati, his relatives converge to “mourn” and lay claim to a chunk of his fortune. However, when they find his will and see that his wealth has been left to the Friars, they resort to calling in conman Schicchi (Richard Burkhard) who commences a plan of disguise to change Donati’s will. Interwoven is a love story between Rinuccio (Diego Silva) and Schicchi’s daughter Lauretta (Tereza Gevorgyan) which confirmed some of the more typical operatic conventions for me.
“As an ensemble, their singing was powerful but one singer who particularly stood out was Silva with his naturally smooth tone and vibrato”
Directed by Christopher Alden, the piece played out with the group of relatives onstage together for the majority of the performance, each actor successfully building up their characters and conveying the dark humour of the lyrics with their impressive voices. As an ensemble, their singing was powerful but one singer who particularly stood out was Silva with his naturally smooth tone and vibrato. Gevorgyan also showed off her talent when taking on Puccino’s much-loved classic ‘O mio babbino caro’ which received an enthusiastic applause from the audience.
“Charles Edwards’ design with the revolving bed, moveable wall, suspended donkey and retractable rope helped to add comedic value to both Burkhard’s and the overall performance”
Although the singing was commendable, it was more the acting, set and costumes that engaged me. Burkhard gave a wonderful performance, truly capturing the cunning side of Schicchi’s character, his stage presence and body language winning over the audience, seen in the cheers and several standing ovations he later received.
Charles Edwards’ design with the revolving bed, moveable wall, suspended donkey and retractable rope helped to add comedic value to both Burkhard’s and the overall performance; characters climbed and moved all over the set whilst conversations and scenes were taking place. The modern Italian costumes and inclusion of an iPad and mobile phones allowed for jokes about our modern-day obsessions with selfies, making the show very accessible for those who may not necessarily see themselves as opera-goers. But it was slightly too cheesy for my liking. This setting and performances do, however, effectively show how ageless the themes of greed and avarice are.
Although opera is stereotypically favoured by an older audience, with Theatre Royal’s demographic for this performance supporting this claim, Opera North have done a fabulous job of reimagining and adapting these well-known productions to make them more accessible and appealing to all age groups. In the end, I found the The Rite of Spring mesmerising and Gianni Schicchi extremely funny; The Orchestra of Opera North’s work underscored a performance that I would certainly see again.
Featured Image courtesy of Katie Moncur