Choir: Leeds Festival Chorus
Orchestra: Orchestra of Opera North
Soloists: Lorna James (soprano), Victoria Sharp (mezzo-soprano), Stuart Laing (tenor)
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
The ever-busy Orchestra of Opera North has any number of festive concerts on its schedule – The Snowman, three Vienna-style New Year concerts and the always popular Dewsbury Christmas celebration – but this time the hosts were Leeds Festival Chorus, with the chorus’ conductor, Simon Wright, taking charge of the chorus, orchestra and three excellent soloists from the Chorus of Opera North.
A nicely varied programme took us from typical choral society territory (oratorio excerpts by Bach and Berlioz) to a second half based in the opera house. For the most part old favourites predominated, though the Finale to Bernstein’s Candide was a surprising and delightful choice to round off the concert, the insidiously affecting Make My Garden Grow – is it too much to hope that, after the triumph with his Trouble in Tahiti, Opera North has something planned for Bernstein’s centenary in 2018?
A frustratingly brief extract from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, a reminder that the Festival Chorus’ next Town Hall date is the St. John Passion in March, was followed by a movement of Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony, too little heard these days. After variations on The First Nowell build gradually from fragments to climax, then die away, the haunting Coventry Carol (“Lullay, lullay, thou little tiny child”) takes over.
The chorus brought out all the rich delicacy of Berlioz’ The Shepherds’ Farewell before the orchestra delivered five pieces from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. The longest, Waltz of the Snowflakes, also featured the ladies of the chorus to great effect, then three short pieces provided entertaining showpieces for celeste, harps and flutes before the Pas de Deux took us to the interval with a burst of romantic passion.
The chorus brought plenty of verve and precision to Another Op’nin’, Another Show from Kiss Me, Kate, though a choral version inevitably lacks the flexibility and contrasts of the on-stage series of short solos and ensembles. More suited to a large chorus were Puccini’s Humming Chorus and Mascagni’s Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana, both superbly done in their differing styles, the emotion that is hauntingly controlled in the Puccini worn in glorious Technicolor on Mascagni’s sleeve. The chorus contribution to Tchaikovsky’s Waltz from Eugene Onegin brought out the drama of the situation, sometimes echoing the majestic confidence of the orchestral theme, sometimes breaking up into almost conversational asides.
The orchestra was as versatile as ever and all three soloists brought a touch of on-stage personality to their contributions. In addition to roles in the Mascagni and the Bernstein, they gave us Victoria Sharp’s sweetly romantic Vilja and Lorna James’ and Stuart Laing’s stylishly crowd-pleasing Brindisi from La Traviata (“Libiamo”), dance and all. That apart, the performance let its hair down only in the encore, The Twelve Days of Christmas, in an arrangement complete with audience participation (including sound effects) and unpredictable orchestral interruptions.
Reviewed on 9 December 2017 | Image: Sam Huddleston