Cinderella – Opera North at Leeds City Varieties

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Writer/Director: John Savournin

Opera North’s ambitious and varied programme for the last few months of the year was effectively sabotaged by the covid pandemic so far as live performance was concerned, but the company has re-configured several of the projects for online streaming. The most ambitious and most acclaimed of these is the concert performance of Fidelio from Leeds Town Hall, but there are others.

Whistle Stop Opera is well established as a small-scale touring arm of Opera North, performing 40-minute versions of operas with three or four singers and an accordionist in clubs, arts centres and occasionally theatres. It has successfully carried on during the pandemic, with an open-air production of Hansel and Gretel in the summer, and Cinderella was scheduled as the next tour. That is now in doubt, though performances in the New Year are still possible, so this film steps into the breach.

Filmed in Leeds City Varieties, Cinderella has a more permanent feel than the usual Whistle Stop productions. The attractions of the building are used, from Cinderella and the Prince lounging in the Stage Boxes to the Fairy Godmother working “magic” with the stage lighting. Rachel Szmukler comes up with some simple, but attractive, designs and the accordion accompaniment (light on its feet for a fit-up tour) is replaced by piano and violin.

There is one major pre-planned change, too. John Savournin’s clever adaptations of operas often involve a change of focus; this one goes further by using four different operas or musicals, by Rossini, Massenet, Viardot (also currently streaming from Northern Opera) and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Despite the operas alternatively featuring a bumbling father or a cruel stepmother and many other changes of plot, Savournin crafts a coherent, if pleasingly silly, plot. Viardot supplies Cinderella’s dreams, Rossini the comic patter, Massenet the magic tree and the Prince as a travesty role and Rodgers and Hammerstein the big romantic moment with “Do I love you because you’re beautiful?”.

Savournin directs it firmly at a young audience. The pantomime is not a million miles away as Julia Mariko Smith’s captivating Fairy Godmother introduces the scene in rhyming couplets and the audience at home is greeted as Cinderella’s visitors or encouraged to help with a spell. Marie Claire Breen’s down-to-earth Scottish Cinders accepts what is coming to her with a wide-eyed delight and Amy J. Payne pulls off the oddest double imaginable as stepmother and prince – sort of one-woman dame and principal boy. The stepsisters are glove puppets, appearing first in the Stalls. Vocal standards are excellent throughout, even when Cinders joins her stepsisters (voiced by Smith and Payne) in a disputatious patter song. Philip Voldman and Byron Parish supply the stylish accompaniment.

A brief note, too, for La Petite Boheme, a 20-plus minute reduction of Act 3 of La Boheme in an animated treatment by Matthew Robins. La Petite Boheme is a Belle Epoque night-spot, rather more stylish than one imagines the hang-out in Puccini’s original, and Robins’ animation is quirky, full of cut-out silhouettes with large glowing eyes – and some rather unexpected frogs. The music emerges gloriously, with four principals (Katie Bird’s luminous Mimi outstanding) and the Opera North Chorus and Orchestra.

Both available to watch HERE until 4th January 2021


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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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