Review: Leeds Opera Festival, Musical Confusion,

Leeds Town Hall Crypt, Tuesday 27th August 2019

THE organisers of the third Leeds Opera Festival can be proud of this years expanded Shakespeare themed event staged in venues across the city.

Morley Town Hall can now boast the first performances in living memory of Charles Villiers Stanford’s opera Much Ado About Nothing.

Headingley Enterprise and Arts Centre (HEART) was the setting for “A Feast of Falstaff” and a Come and Sing Opera community workshop.

The closing stage of the festival shifted to the crypt of Leeds Town Hall, until the early 1970s a popular civic restaurant, now a versatile performance area accommodating up to 250 people.

A lively audience seated courtyard style around the projecting stage enjoyed a short programme centred on Henry Rowley Bishop. He composed eighty operas but is best remembered for the songs Home Sweet Home and Lo! Here the Gentle Lark.

This was followed by Musical Confusion, a thoughtfully crafted dramatised presentation of scenes from Shakespeare’s plays interwoven with the operas, or musical theatre, inspired by them.

Soprano Juliet Montgomery, tenor Michael Vincent Jones with actors Ben Addis and Rachel Leskovac were directed by Elizabeth Freestone and conducted from an electronic keyboard by Helen Harrison. The ensemble created a fluid and at times intensely physical sequence of music, drama and comedy. Well known excerpts included the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, Somewhere from Bernstein’s West Side Story and L’amour, l’amour from Gounod’s opera. A gripping scene featuring both Shakespeare’s and Verdi’s Lady Macbeth felt dramatically involving. The only blemish occurred when the acoustic effect of the crypt’s low ceiling caused the distortion of top notes delivered “con belto.”

The Taming of the Shrew was represented by Herman Goetz’ German language comic opera Der Widerspanstigen Zahmung and by Cole Porter’s exuberant Kiss Me, Kate. Oberon and Titania scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream were juxtaposed with seductive music from Britten’s opera. And finally, Puck’s immortal monologue “If we shadows have offended...” Offended? Of course not. Entertained? Most certainly!

Geoffrey Mogridge