Online Review: Switch ON Live from Leeds

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

This Opera North concert, livestreamed from Leeds Town Hall and now available on Youtube, was, in truth, rather bitty as a concert per se, but a perfect fit as a “celebratory preview” which is how it was accurately billed. Forces were reduced and socially distanced, the orchestra represented by a string quintet, the chorus spread out along the orchestra rises, but there were a splendid selection of vocal soloists, filmed inserts and a series of optimistic interviews conducted with her customary astuteness by Suzy Klein.

Switch ON: Live did two things apart from provide a varied and attractive hour or so of music. It affirmed that Opera North has been anything but idle artistically during the long months of lockdown and it looked forward to an explosion of new work in the next few months – COVID permitting.

Probably the highlight of the evening was one movement of Jasdeep Singh Degun’s Arya. This remarkable piece, a concerto for sitar and orchestra, with the composer as soloist, premiered at Huddersfield and was scheduled for a series of concerts elsewhere before the world stopped. This reduction for sitar and string quintet worked brilliantly, almost mesmeric at times, its intimacy enhanced by the close-up camera work.

Creative re-cycling of work sabotaged by the virus also gave us an extract from a film of Song of our Heartland, Will Todd’s community opera with the people of County Durham which never reached live performance. Another film extract featured the Whistle Stop Opera version of Hansel and Gretel, the company’s first venture back into opera and reviewed here in August. On Switch ON: Live we were able to enjoy Claire Pascoe giving her all as the wicked witch in a charming garden in Halifax!

Astonishingly Opera North plans at least three major undertakings before the end of the year. A series of short works with Leeds Playhouse under the title Connecting Voices (including Gillene Butterfield in Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine) starts this weekend and was covered in yet another film. This will be followed by an operatic double-bill at the Playhouse and a concert performance of Fidelio at the Town Hall. Thus the concert opener, Happy We from Handel’s Acis and Galatea, sung with suitably bright optimism by Amy Freston and Nicholas Watts, was not just thumbing ON’s nose at the summer of our discontent, but acting as an appetiser for upcoming performances. Extracts from Fidelio, La Boheme and Die Schone Mullerin similarly tied in with the company’s recent or future programme.

It was only in the final two items that the programme departed from showing the range of Opera North’s activities. David Greed led the quintet through the dancing rhythms of Dvorak’s String Quintet No. 2 and finally Elizabeth Llewellyn was in compelling voice as Santuzza in the wonderfully uplifting Easter Hymn from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, with Oliver Rundell and David Cowan (who shared accompanying and conducting duties) both in action, as organist and conductor respectively.

Switch ON Live is available to watch HERE

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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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