Geoffrey Mogridge reviews The Rite of Spring and Gianni Schicchi by Opera North at Leeds Grand Theatre, Saturday, February 16

This unique double bill is a product of the first ever collaboration between internationally acclaimed Leeds- based companies Opera North and Phoenix Dance Theatre. Stravinsky’s seminal score for The Rite of Spring has memorably raised the roof of Leeds Town Hall on a number of occasions. The ballet for which it was commissioned has never been staged in the city until now.

Jonathan McPhee’s reduced orchestration for around sixty musicians inevitably scales down the explosive impact of a concert hall performance. However, the individual voicings of the Orchestra of Opera North, conducted by Garry Walker, are bathed in the Grand Theatre’s beautifully clear acoustic.

Haitian-born choreographer Jeanguy Saintus replaces the traditional sacrificial storyline of a young girl dancing herself to death with themes of Haitian folklore. Bold downward lighting illuminates the grace and athleticism of the eight Phoenix dancers which, combined with the effect of Yann Sebra’s costumes, creates stage pictures that are utterly compelling.

A revival of Opera North’s 2015 production of Puccini’s delightfully madcap Gianni Schicchi makes for a scintillating contrast. It is set in Florence where the scene for comic mayhem is the sick room of wealthy Buoso Donati.

A gathering of grasping relatives are impatiently waiting for the old man to kick the bucket. The relatives summon Gianni Schicchi to impersonate Donati and dictate a will that leaves all wealth and property to them. But the wily Schicchi has the last laugh by dictating a fraudulent will that bequeathes everything to himself.

Richard Burkhard is a rich-toned and slightly menacing Schicchi, Tereza Gevorgyan is his goth-like daughter Lauretta whose interpretation of O Mio Babbino Caro (Oh My Beloved Daddy) blends sarcasm with tenderness.

Rinuccio, Lauretta’s love interest, is the liquid-voiced Mexican tenor Diego Silva, and Leah-Marion Jones his formidable aunt Zita.

Conductor Garry Walker ensures the whole confectionery zips along at a cracking pace. The Orchestra of Opera North find every expressive nuance in Puccini’s feverishly busy score.

Rite of Spring and Gianni Schicchi continue at Leeds Grand Theatre on February 23, February 28 and March 2.