ComedyDramaNorth East & YorkshireOperaReview

Opera North’s Cavalleria rusticana and Trial by Jury – The Grand, Leeds

Cavalleria rusticana

Music: Pietro Mascagni

Libretto: Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci

Director: Karolina Sofulak

Trial by Jury

Music: Arthur Sullivan

Libretto: William Schwenck Gilbert

Director: John Savournin

Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood

Both Cavalleria rusticana and Trial by Jury are part of The Little Greats festival which Opera North is presenting this autumn. The double bill of short operas makes up the evening’s lineup and both productions make their debut on the evening this season.

Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic chivalry) is the first opera presented and is about Turiddù (Jonathan Stoughton) who dated Lola (Katie Bray) but it turns out that she married Alfio (Phillip Rhodes). Unhappy with this he angrily seduces the very religious Santuzza (Giselle Allen) but still loves Lola and she, unhappy with Alfio, also yearns for him. The story uncovers the quintessential ‘love triangles’ that lead to tragic consequences.

The modern production offers strong themes of infidelity, jealousy, betrayal and guilt in a tight-knit and very religious working-class community. The story’s scenes are sterile, scarce, and old before its time and are reflected in the ingenious staging, courtesy of Charles Edwards. This production’s setting is in communist Poland in the late 1970s, and where many people rely on the oppressive state to survive and seek solace in Catholicism. The life shown in Cavalleria rusticana is linked to Verismo, an artistic movement in Italy at the end of the 19th Century, which encourages realism through expression.

The singers and the Chorus of Opera North who make up the cast give a thoroughly committed performance. Allen stands out as Santuzza whose emotive arias move and reflect the religious devotion and the yearning to be loved right. All set to Mascagni’s dramatic score and features the infamous Intermezzo which is familiar to many classical music fans.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury, a comic opera, follows and is such a total contrast to Cavalleria rusticana. Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas are known to be farcical and matters that matter, are dealt with satirically. The narrative follows a broken promise of marriage between The Plaintiff, Angelina, (Amy Freston) and The Defendant, Edwin (Nicholas Watts), which the jury and the public assemble to hear.

The opera premiered in 1875 in London, and it was then, that a man could be sued for compensation for failing to marry his fiancée. Gilbert and Sullivan’s operatic creativity, Trial of Jury is no exception, exposes those in authority and in high society and how their powers and influences are exercised in decision-making.

Trial by Jury guarantees silliness and laughter throughout, and more so with the judge’s outrageous ruling of the case in the end. The company entertains thoroughly with the audience especially Jeremy Peaker as The Learned Judge, Freston as Angelina (The Plaintiff) and Watts as Edwin (The Defendant).

The setting of this production, reflecting in the staging, somewhat has a celebrity feel with the press assembling at the Court of the Exchequer and fans of Angelina, the Plaintiff is a film star, at the beginning. It certainly pinpoints the relevant themes that are just as contemporary today as to when it was first premiered. It is an enjoyable 45 minutes and gives one an opportunity in the future to explore works of Gilbert and Sullivan and other Savoy operas.

Reviewed on 27 September 2017 | Image: Robert Workman

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