Composers: Vincenzo Bellini ,Georges Bizet, Gaetano Donizetti , Charles Gounod, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Ruggero Leoncavallo , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner
Conductor: Paul Daniel
The Lowry was the last venue at which Opera North played before lockdown brought down the curtain on live performances. Their return to the venue has a celebratory atmosphere. Yesterday the company performed Fidelio which has the theme of escaping oppression and rediscovering hope and freedom and A Night at the Opera is described as a ‘gala concert’.
However, things are hardly back to normal. HM Government has gone back on plans to lift lockdown restrictions and The Lowry is operating under social distancing measures with limited audience numbers, mandatory mask-wearing, no intervals and tables, chairs, promotional materials and programmes removed from foyers. Fidelio was staged as an orchestral reduction and tonight’s concert is not fully staged but features three soloists and the Opera North Orchestra. This stripped-back, the Spartan approach does not seem conducive to a party mood; but this is a surprising concert in a number of ways.
Advance publicity for the concert made one wonder if Opera North might try and emulate ‘The Last Night of the Proms’ and offer a crowd-pleasing selection of arias leading inevitably to Nessun Dorma. A Night at the Opera is, however, far from a ‘greatest hits’ collection. Whilst I recognised most of the composers whose works were featured; I’d seen only about half of the dozen operas from which selections were taken.
The result is a revelatory show that, while intended for enthusiasts, will captivate even a casual listener. Who knew the bombastic Richard Wagner was capable of composing a gentle aria? Instead of a boisterous sing-along, the concert concludes with a bittersweet reflective aria by Erich Korngold which is particularly appropriate for a culture struggling to come to terms with the shocking events of the past year.
The concert loosely links the themes of love and travel. Conductor Paul Daniel is a genial host; cheerfully comparing the complex plot of The Marriage of Figaro to Line of Duty.
The nature of opera makes it inevitable the singers are considered the stars of the show. Certainly, the three soloists provide stirring performances. Elin Pritchard gives an anguished reading of one of the most recognisable arias in the show- Mimi’s introduction in La bohème. Benson Wilson has tremendous stage presence and Nico Darmanin draws pathos from Una furtiva lagrima.
Yet A Night at the Opera is very much an equal partnership between the singers and the orchestra. Members of the orchestra are credited by name and, instead of the famous arias, the selections from Carmen are musical interludes.
A Night at the Opera deifies the odds to become a celebration not only of the art form but also the company performing the selections. Fist raised aloft conductor Paul Daniel concludes the show proclaiming: ‘’Opera North is back!’’. They are certainly very welcome.
Reviewed on 16th June 2021