Opera North's Little Greats

Leeds Grand Theatre

Saturday 16th September 2017

Six powerful bite-size operas make up Opera North's "Little Greats" Festival. The principal singers have been cast across the six operas and members of the Chorus take on a host of cameo roles. The creative buzz of this ensemble company rekindles the excitement of Opera North's original Eight Little Greats some thirteen years ago. A gigantic blown up photograph covering the procenium drop-curtain shows the smiling faces of the entire company.

Last Saturday's double bill unusually paired Leoncavallo's Pagliacci (Clowns) with Ravel's L'enfant et Les Sortileges (The Child and the Spells). Production director Charles Edwards underlines the sweaty, timeless realism of the doomed love triangle at the core of Pagliacci. Edwards bathes the fast moving turn of events in the intense glare of a neon-lit rehearsal room. Richard Burkhard's Tonio sets the scene in his crystal clear rendering of the famous Prologue. Soprano Elin Pritchard is an impassioned Nedda and tenor Peter Auty strenuously conveys the anguish of Canio, the cuckolded husband. Phillip Rhodes is in potent vocal form as Silvio, the object of Nedda's affection. Conductor Tobias Ringborg coaxes singing of visceral intensity from the superbly blended Chorus. The sixty-piece Orchestra of Opera North project with luscious tones and roof-raising brassy climaxes the tension and drama of Leoncavallo's tuneful score.

Household objects spring to life and the animals turn the tables on a rude child in Ravel's L'enfant et Les Sortileges. Annabel Arden's fluid direction with Charles Edwards' picturebook designs and subdued lighting conjure up an enchanting childlike world. Supremely agile soprano Wallis Giunta is the naughty child who makes good. Quirijn de Lang steps out of a huge Grandfather Clock and he also portrays the Tom Cat. Fflur Wyn soars into the vocal stratosphere as the Nightingale and John Graham-Hall plays the Tree Frog. He convulses the audience as a fox-trotting Tea Pot with an enormous and very suggestively placed spout. The Orchestra of Opera North conducted by Martin Andre extracts a gorgeous spectrum of colours from one of Ravel's most piquant scores.

Opera North's Little Greats continue in repertory at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 21st October. They promise to be utterly compelling.

Geoffrey Mogridge