North East & YorkshireOperaReview

A Tale of Orpheus & Eurydice – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Director: Simone Ibbett-Brown

In the early days of opera, we are told, most operas were variants on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. It rather seems as if Opera North is reliving those days but with an important change. No fewer than three of their autumn productions are Orpheus-based and A Tale of Orpheus & Eurydice offers a taster for them.

The change, of course, is that Opera North is engaging with other music genres and other cultures. In October, Orpheus in the Record Shop returns to Leeds Playhouse with rapper Testament whilst Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice and a re-working of Monteverdi’s Orpheus are part of the main operatic programme.

It’s that Orpheus that this Tale pre-figures, with Nicholas Watts and Ashnaa Sasikaran and director Simone Ibbett-Brown from the coming mainstage production. Produced in collaboration with South Asian Arts UK, it’s a simple 45 minute trailer that whets the audience’s appetite for the real thing. The story of this prequel – we are all initially welcomed to their engagement party – doesn’t carry a lot of bite dramatically, but the merging of different art forms musically is spell-binding. Eurydice has a habit of disappearing for no particular reason and there is an evening of missed buses and early hours at Hades. In truth, both principals’ performances of the bits in between the songs are amiable, but no more.

It’s the musical fusion that grabs the attention. Beginning (and ending) with The Wild Mountain Thyme, Watts soon finds himself singing in concert with Sasikaran’s similar, but different, Indian classical piece. Much the same happens with Purcell and Monteverdi. Nicholas Watts, a member of the Opera North Chorus, is the ideal choice for this project, his clean and pure delivery the base for Ashnaa Sasikaran’s more intense and emotional approach. His exemplary pitching is the perfect contrast to, and fusion with, her powerfully dramatic style.

Kavi Pau occupies a sort of middle-ground in his keyboard accompaniments and Mendi Singh’s tabla has the ability to transform a four-square Western melody by introducing Indian rhythms. Simone Ibbett-Brown’s production keeps it all simple: suitable to a tour of universities, art galleries and music centres.

Touring until 5th July 2022.

The Reviews Hub Score

Vocally spell-binding

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. 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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