Tag Archives: Opera North

Seven Deadly Sins

Leeds Playhouse

However cavalier people can be about social distancing in the real world, it has had a profound effect on the way this year’s specially-created online opera offerings have looked, with directors and performers coming up with ingenious ways to exploit the restrictions creatively.

The creative minds behind Opera North’s first staged show since the shutters came down have not only been singularly inventive, they have also made a very lucid production of a work that is a challenge to stage. There is a wealth of subtext in Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s last collaboration, but the surface narrative is of two Annas – explicitly twins in this production – who spend seven years touring to seven cities in America in order to make the money to build their family a home in Louisiana, encountering each of the Seven Deadly Sins at their stops along the way.

Director and choreographer Gary Clarke and designer George Johnson-Leigh have built seven separate platforms in the playing area of the Quarry Theatre space at Leeds Playhouse for their Annas – singer Wallis Giunta and dancer Shelley Eva Haden – to journey between. Conductor James Holmes and the 15-piece band have a podium behind, which is often, but not always, also the home to the four men of the family chorus. Onstage signage helpfully indicates the year, location and vice of each episode, leaving the viewer/listener free to enjoy the music and performances.

And what a company Opera North has assembled for this return to live work, with names that will be familiar in Scotland to lovers of opera, and even more so of dance.

Clarke brought his own company to Stirling’s Macrobert with a powerful elegy for the mining industry, COAL, and was due to return on March 20 with its sequel, Wasteland, when the venue closed its doors. He also won a Herald Angel Award at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe for The Troth, his work with Akademi about Sikh soldiers in the First World War. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, Shelley Eva Haden was a member of choreographer Rosie Kay’s company for 5 Soldiers, her work based on the Army’s training regime, which came to Glasgow’s Tramway in 2016.

The singing Anna, Wallis Giunta, was Dodo in Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves for Scottish Opera at the 2019 Edinburgh International Festival. That work was an adaptation of a Lars von Trier film, and Clarke and Johnson-Leigh are clearly referencing another, the self-consciously stagey Dogville, which starred Nicole Kidman, here.

The gangsters in Seven Deadly Sins are, of course, the forces of capitalism and moral corruption in the West, and the world of Hollywood is ever-present in this production, not just in the Los Angeles section with its emblematic movie-camera. Haden’s cropped-headed appearance is bound to call to mind Rose McGowan, redoubtable instigator of the #MeToo campaign.

She is a compelling presence throughout, but so too is Giunta, who delivers the demanding vocal narrative in a deceptively casual fashion, despite some awkwardness in the scansion of Michael Feingold’s translation. The instrumental arrangement by HK Gruber and Christian Muthspiel is superbly played by the small orchestra and the family quartet – Stuart Laing, Nicholas Butterfield, Campbell Russell and Dean Robinson – are a precisely-pitched barbershop chorus.

If Brecht is perhaps more faithfully served in the staging than the libretto, that is probably fair enough, as Seven Deadly Sins was hardly a work into which he poured his soul. Holmes and the cast do Weill proud, though. This is a crucial work in his canon, the pivot between his early German success and America, and the score is vibrantly realised here.
Keith Bruce

Image: Seven Deadly Sins credit Tristam Kenton

Opera North streams Sins

The proposed tour by Opera North of a concert performance of Wagner’s Parsifal, which was scheduled to visit Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on June 2, 2021, has been postponed. The company says it is committed to revisiting the project in a future year, but the scale of the forces required, with 130 musicians on stage, make it impossible with social distancing in place for the performers.

The company intends to fill the dates booked for Parsifal with an evening of music from the Ring cycle, conducted by Richard Farnes and using Jonathan Dove’s orchestrations, intended as a companion piece to the 2016 Opera North Ring cycle, currently free to watch online.

Ticket-holders for Parsifal may choose to apply for a refund.

Opera North has two livestream performances scheduled before the end of the year, beginning on Saturday November 21 at 6pm, when Gary Clarke’s new production of Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins will be available to watch for £10. The production was to have opened in Leeds in a double bill with Handel’s Acis and Galatea and will be the company’s first staged show since March. Conducted by James Holmes, it will be available on demand for 48 hours only.

Opera North’s The Seven Deadly Sins by Kurt Weill ©Tristram Kenton

In December Mark Wigglesworth conducts a dramatic concert performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio, directed by Matthew Eberhardt with a cast including Rachel Nicholls, Toby Spence, Robert Hayward and Brindley Sherratt. Originally due to run at Leeds Town Hall for four performances from November 29, it will now livestream at 7pm on Saturday December 12 and be available on demand for seven days at a ticket price of £15.


Main Image: Seven Deadly Sins credit Tristram Kenton

Opera North’s switched on in Edinburgh

While many companies go outdoors, online or dark, Opera North has ambitions to tour a large-scale concert version of Beethoven’s Fidelio, with soloists including soprano Rachel Nichols and tenor Toby Spence, no strangers to Scottish audiences, before the end of the year, ultimately dependant on the situation regarding COVID-19. 

Conducted by Mark Wigglesworth, this marks the highlight of Switched ON, a seven-programme season largely centred around Leeds Town Hall, though it is expected that ON will take Fidelio north of the border. Dates and venues are yet to be confirmed. 

The majority of Opera North’s 20:21initally intended season, announced in the spring, has been postponed. However, it is currently possible to book tickets for the company’s scheduled performance of Wagner’s Parsifal, on Wednesday 2 June 2021 at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, on the venue’s website, www.usherhall.co.uk