Conductor: David Cowan
Performers: Orchestra of Opera North
Chorus of Opera North
Opera North Youth Chorus
Opera North Children’s Chorus
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
In recent years Opera North has received praise in abundance, for work in both theatre and concert hall, and this Christmas Concert was another reminder that one of the main reasons for so much success is canny, but imaginative, programming, whether of an opera season or a single concert.
Carol concerts with audience participation work well; add in among the familiar carols some lesser known or more ambitious Christmas songs and some instrumental treats by, say, Vivaldi or Corelli and that works even better. The Opera North Christmas Concert crammed all that into the first 80 minutes or so and then finished off with a sparkling performance of Act Two of La Boheme, Cafe Momus on Christmas Eve – now that’s programming.
The other major factor in the concert’s success was the inspired music-making of all the Opera North ensembles, the Orchestra, of course, but in addition the Chorus, the Youth Chorus and the Children’s Chorus, all given their time in the spotlight.
Most of the first half belonged to the orchestra. David Cowan conducted a lively gallop through Rossini’s Overture to La Cenerentola, a trailer for the opera in the New Year programme, and a spectacular account of Sibelius’ Finlandia, taking us to the interval with an explosion of lower brass and percussion. Orchestra leader David Greed took charge for Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, an accomplished traditional reading full of melodic fluency and rapid articulation.
Between Vivaldi and Sibelius the Youth Chorus shone in John Rutter’s When Icicles Hang, another example of shrewd programming. Rutter is probably the most popular contemporary writer of carols and, predictably, two of his appeared in the post-interval set, but this was something different, a cycle of six Winter songs setting texts dating from Elizabethan times and earlier. The rumbustious drinking song, Bring us in good ale, sung with a precise attack, was certainly the most entertaining of the cycle, then the mood shifted to the gentle melancholy of Blow, blow, thou winter wind and the ominous Winter wakeneth all my care before another drinking song restored festive good cheer.
A set of carols after the interval, some with audience participation, featured the youngest of the three choruses, the Opera North Children’s Chorus, excellent throughout, especially in the delightful opening to Rutter’s arrangement of Noel Nouvelet, and with Ifan Jones confidently taking on the unaccompanied first verse of Once in Royal David’s City.
The La Boheme extract began as pretty much a concert performance, with soloists taken from the Opera North Chorus: fine singing all round (Alexander Banfield and Katie Bird as Rodolfo and Mimi), some character interaction, sparky contributions from orchestra, chorus and children’s chorus and impressive coordination by David Cowan of a stage packed with performers.
The squally arrival of Musetta and her elderly admirer Alcindoro from the back of the hall took things to a different dramatic and comic level. Lorna James relished the set-piece virtuosity of Musetta’s Waltz Song, complemented by Jeremy Peaker’s expert comic turn as the put-upon Alcindoro and James Davies’ passionate and powerfully sung Marcello.
Then the little military band struck up in the foyer and marched through the hall in Santa Claus outfits – it was that sort of an evening. The Bohemians followed them out, leaving everyone else to sing Silent Night to round off a truly memorable concert.
Reviewed on 15 December 2016 | Image: Contributed