Review: The Runaway Royal, Opera North Youth Orchestra and Chorus, Leeds Grand Theatre, Monday 19th February 2024

King Frederich of Moldavia has died. His dastardly son Albert is to be crowned King and intends to continue the late King’s reign of terror. The people secretly talk of the return of the legendary Runaway Royal, Henri, Frederich’s other son who ran away from the Palace because he no longer wanted to be part of the family. Sounds familiar.

This is an abridged version of Emmanuel Chabrier’s opéra-comique Le Roi Malgré Lui - the Reluctant King. Opera North staged the opera’s British premiere here at Leeds Grand and at the 1994 Edinburgh International Festival to mark the centenary of Chabrier’s death.

The piece has never found its way into the repertoire although the music was greatly admired by Ravel and Stravinsky. Two big numbers for chorus and orchestra stand out: the Danse Slave and the whirling Fête Polonaise both occasionally find their way into concert programmes as orchestral lollipops The Youth Company of Opera North comprises a Children’s Chorus for ages 8-11, Opera North Young Voices ages 12-15 and the Opera North Youth Chorus ages 16-19. The Opera North Youth Orchestra is a pre-professional ensemble for career-minded instrumentalists in sixth form and university. It helps dedicated young musicians transition into the professional world of music. Last August the Youth Company performed Gilbert & Sullivan’s Trial By Jury at Opera North’s Howard Assembly Room.

Members of the choral ensembles have appeared on the main stage in many Opera North productions, such as the street urchins in La Boheme or Carmen. This will be the first occasion the entire Youth Chorus, trained by Nicholas Shaw, has performed in the Opera House.

Ilkley Gazette: The Runaway Royal at Leeds Grand, courtesy Opera NorthThe Runaway Royal at Leeds Grand, courtesy Opera North (Image: Tom Arber)

For most of the players in the Youth Orchestra, this will be their first experience in the subterranean world of the orchestra pit; playing out of sight of the performers on stage and the audience in the stalls. They had just two days including the evening performance for the whole thing to gel. You would never have guessed it from the spirited professionalism of this talented young company of more than 100 singers and orchestral players conducted by Oliver Rundell. Three young professional singers take the principal roles: Tenor Cameron Mitchell as Nangis, Soprano Lucy Anderson as Minka, and baritone Jack Holton as Henri, the Runaway Royal acclaimed as the new King.