Viennese Whirl

Orchestra of Opera North at Leeds Town Hall

The elfin figure of Belfast-born conductor Christopher Bell is decked out in a shimmering red and black party jacket with golden twinkle-toe shoes for this traditional New Year Celebration.

Bell soon electrified the atmosphere in Leeds Town Hall. He flattered and exhorted the capacity audience to imitate the sound of gun shot in Johann Strauss’s polka Auf der Jagd (On the Hunt), to sing the La, La refrain in Johann’s Egyptian March, and clap along to the riotous Can Can from Offenbach’s Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld. The maestro’s engaging introductions to these orchestral lollipops included a brief rehearsal to encourage everyone to keep time and not sing louder than lovely. In the case of Emile Waldteufel’s Skaters’ Waltz, bobbing up and down with synchronised hand movements was also required. Quipped Bell, “You didn’t think that you would be coming to a concert to lose weight.”

He might also have usefully drawn upon the audience to provide the chorus for Stefanie Corley’s vibrant performances of Vilja from Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, and Meine Lippen sie kissen so heiss (My Lips, they kiss so hot) from Lehar’s Giuditta. Not to be outshone by our flamboyant conductor, Corley alternated voluminous mauve, turquoise, and royal blue gowns. In Meine Lippen, both singer and conductor danced and twirled on the spot. People say that classical concerts are “staid”. The warm and responsive Leeds audience made this one feel more like a huge end of term musical party - and all the better for it.

The Orchestra of Opera North, particularly the percussion department, were certainly in high jinks mode. But those grand symphonic waltzes evoke something else. A swooping phrase from the violins, a melancholy solo cello, oboe or clarinet can engender a feeling of longing tinged with regret that the party will soon be over. Christopher Bell and the Orchestra released these fleeting qualities in Johann Strauss’s bittersweet romantic Overture to Die Fledermaus, the eloquent Blue Danube and Emperor Waltzes, and in the sumptuous waltz melody from Franz von Suppe’s delectable Overture to The Beautiful Galatea. The entire audience clapped with militaristic precision for the Radezstky March - a rousing conclusion to a sparkling concert.

Geoffrey Mogridge