MusicNorth East & YorkshireReview

A Feast of Gilbert & Sullivan – Huddersfield Town Hall

Soloists: Victoria Joyce (soprano), Louise Crane (mezzo-soprano), Joseph Shovelton (tenor), Jeremy Peaker (baritone), Richard Woodall (bass)

Orchestra: Orchestra of Opera North

Conductor: Anthony Kraus

The Kirklees Concert Season with the Orchestra of Opera North is anything but an orthodox series of symphony concerts. The opener, admittedly, was a conventional Beethoven and Schubert programme, but soon there is the challenging one-act opera by Bartok, Bluebeard’s Castle, and in the New Year a mixture of Asian and Western classical music with the premiere of a sitar concerto. And, for the second concert of the season, Sunday tea-time was the occasion for a bit of musical fun with A Feast of Gilbert & Sullivan. 

Neatly planned and well-paced by Opera North chorister and D’Oyly Carte veteran Jeremy Peaker, the programme took us through extracts from twelve of the comic operas. The first half was mostly single numbers, with a healthy sprinkling of lesser-known operas and amiable links from the five soloists every so often. The second half focused more on popular favourites, with extended extracts from The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado, quite a bit of dialogue acted out and even a touch of dressing up.

It’s difficult to say whether John Wellington Wells is lesser known these days. The Sorcerer may be performed more frequently, but it’s hardly part of the central canon, though the account of the “dealer in magic and spells” is a fine early example of the classic curriculum vitae patter song. Rarity or not, Peaker’s confidential-cum-ghoulish performance set the course for nonsense after a stylish account of the Iolanthe overture followed by a rousing quartet on Regular Royal Queen. 

It was good to have a number from the underestimated Utopia Limited, though sadly there were not enough men to do possibly the craziest G&S number of all, a parody of the Christy Minstrels, Society has quite forsaken. Choosing a series of numbers from Princess Ida, also a bit neglected, to end the first half was a nice touch, I am a Maiden (sung by three chaps, of course) a strong hint of some of the daftness in store.

Those trios (usually trios, sometimes quartets or quintets) dealing with a problem, dilemma or paradox are quite the jolliest things in Gilbert and Sullivan and Never Mind the Why and Wherefore had proved a delightfully animated piece of nonsense early on, but in the second half these multiplied, from If You Go In  from Iolanthe onwards. After a pause to take in a quite superb performance of Mad Margaret’s song (Ruddigore) by Louise Crane and Joseph Shovelton’s benign lyricism on Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes, it was time for chunks to get your teeth into, with a hefty balance in favour of fun.

The Pirates sequence began with Jeremy Peaker donning the garb of a modern Major General and ended with Richard Woodall, in full police mode, haranguing the audience into supplying the chorus for A Policeman’s Lot, with in between a pretty full version of the scene around the Paradox trio (Shovelton, Crane and Woodall) and Victoria Joyce soaring into Poor Wandering One.

By The Mikado segment ensembles were very much the order of the day, even Three Little Maids, with the added appeal of Richard Woodall’s stratospheric soprano – there were only two female singers – you do the math!

Anthony Kraus’ spry conducting kept the balance between precision and relaxation and all five singers were excellent in a concert that was more demanding than their perpetual smiles suggested. Richard Woodall, ideal to bluff and bluster through the Pirate King, also found himself in roles requiring much more gracious legato singing; Jeremy Peaker, happy to patter, jig and clown all night, took on Strephon, the half-fairy parliamentarian; most difficult of all, Louise Crane had to try to emulate all those massive G&S contraltos (an English voice type that seems to have disappeared) alongside more flexible mezzo parts. And she enjoyed it so much that by the end she had assumed the character, though not the appearance, enough to biff the unfortunate Mr.Peaker (by this time Koko to her Katisha) at every opportunity. 

Reviewed on October 5, 2019 | Image: Robert Workman

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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