DramaNorth East & YorkshireOperaReview

The Rite of Spring/ Gianni Schicchi – Leeds Grand

The Rite of Spring

Music: Igor Stravinsky

Choreographer: Jeanguy Saintus

Gianni Schicchi

Music: Giacomo Puccini

Director: Christopher Alden

Conductor: Garry Walker

Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood

This production marks the first-ever collaboration between Opera North and Phoenix Dance Company. Garry Walker conducts both Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi in the company of Opera North’s orchestra. In another first,The Rite of Spring makes its first-ever production at the Leeds Grand Theatre, while and the production of Gianni Schicchi returns after its debut in 2015.

Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, premiered in Paris just before the First World War and is based on Pagan Russia’s pictures, under the musical composition Stravinsky and the designs of Nicholas Roerich. The scenarios are split into two sections, Adoration of the Earth andThe Sacrifice. Jeanguy Saintus, the choreographer who is making his UK debut, draws on his Haitian roots, including folklore, consolidating more in celebration than the original sacrifices. The opening section explores a “promise”, a Haitian voduo’s ritual, where its religious followers request positive things, under the influence of different Loas (Haitian Voudou spirits). This is consolidated in the next section, where the followers are blessed with their wishes and are introduced into the religion under the guidance of Loas.

The dancing and movements are evocative and provocative with varying tempos that reflect various rituals, initiations and storytelling of the different spirits. Yann Seabra’s costumes complement the narrative with different colours representing each of the individual Loas and their symbolisms. The Rite of Spring is an excellent performance by the talented dancers of Phoenix Dance Theatre under Saintus’ creative and cultural choreography. The production is short, approximately 40 minutes, but absolutely packed to the maximum.

Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi follows after the interval and this comic opera is part of Puccini’s Trittico. The opera is based on an episode of Dante’s Divine Comedy and the libretto is written by Giovacchino Forzana. It is about the death of Buoso Donati (Tim Claydon) and his relatives learn via his last will and testament that the inheritance has been left to the Friars. Through scheming and a promise that Rinuccio (Diego Silva) is able to marry Lauretta (Tereza Gevorgyan), daughter of Gianni Schicchi (Richard Burkhard), a plan is devised to ensure the money is left to Buoso’s relatives. Schicchi disguises as Buoso and a new will has been executed which leads to relatives realising they should have been careful what they wished for. However, it does ends all well with the reunification of Rinuccio and Lauretta, to the amusement of Shicchi.

The hour long opera is enriched with Puccini’s wonderful score and is packed with entertaining comedy from beginning to end. The standout performances must be the moving and yearning solo, O mio babbino caro, from Gevorgyan and Burkhard’s first class portrayal of the cunning and conning Schicchi. The cast colourfully portrays the chaotic characters and the production is contemporary with modern technological touches and Charles Edwards’ simple staging and Doey Lüthi’s costumes work well hand in hand.

Both productions are very different, however, they celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of what opera and dance can bring on stage. It is certainly a successful collaboration from both Phoenix Dance Theatre and Opera North and no doubt there will be future collaborations planned from them.

Reviewed on 16th February 2019 | Image: Tristram Kenton

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