As keen readers of OperaWatch will know (thank you, Freda and Eric Thwaites), summer is traditionally a quiet period for opera here in the North.
While opera companies are off sunning themselves on beaches across Europe in a pre-Brexit binge, we at OperaWatch devote our time to working on the Northern Soul allotment hoping that the harvest will supply enough produce to stave off our annual hunger in the summer downturn. As I look over a sun-drenched Manchester and the ravenous, gaunt look in the eyes of our OperaWatch trainees, I am happy to report that this season we have some special events in the region that will provide work and sustenance. Think Live Aid but with sopranos and tenors.
Most noteworthy is the upcoming concert staging of Verdi’s Aida by Opera North at The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester on June 4. Concert staging is where the orchestra is on stage with the singers, allowing performers to concentrate on the music with minimal attention to the stage itself. I like it because the singers can ‘surf’ on the waves of the orchestra’s music behind them rather than singing over and above the musicians as in any normal staging. It’s a purer experience. Over the past few years, Opera North has become expert in concert staging. I witnessed Richard Farnes’ magnificent Ring Cycle (as Eric Morecambe would have said “not necessarily in the right order”) that made me really appreciate Wagner. The company’s performance of Puccini’s Turandot in 2017 at Leeds Town Hall is still one of the best and most moving operas I have ever seen.
The same team that brought Turandot to life is behind this production of Aida – director Annabel Arden, designer Joanna Parker and conductor Sir Richard Armstrong. Arden finds the concert staging “liberating”. She says that the absence of a set serves to stretch her imagination.
“I can concentrate on character and the essential elements of the drama…the orchestra becomes the landscape of the piece. Normally, you can’t see them as they are hidden in the pit, but so much of the drama is in their playing, so to have them centre stage is truly thrilling.” Add to that the lighting, video projections and “the intense presence of the fabulous Chorus of Opera North”, and you have a piece that The Guardian dubbed “formidably strong” and “superbly sung”.
Also this summer is the City of Manchester Opera’s production of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci at Hope Mill Theatre from May 23 to 25. I hope to review this production and to find out more about this pro-am company. I am also stupidly excited about the inclusion of Philip Glass and Phelim McDermott’s Tao of Glass in this year’s Manchester International Festival. It runs from July 11 to 20 at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. Again, a review to follow.
It looks like a busy and exciting summer is on the cards for opera-goers in the North. But spare a thought for our poor OperaWatch trainees who will still have to supplement their income with shifts on the Northern Soul allotment as I sup my pre-theatre piña colada humming the slave chorus from Nabbuco.
By Robert Hamilton, Opera Correspondent
Main image: Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci at Hope Mill Theatre
Aida, Opera North. Credit: Photo: © CLIVE BARDA/ArenaPAL