North East & YorkshireReviewYouth Theatre

The Selfish Giant – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Composer: John Barber

Librettist: Jessica Duchen

Director: Emma Black

This was a second encounter in three days with the remarkable talent of the young. Following British Youth Music Theatre’s Educating Yorkshire T’Musical we had the Opera North Youth Company giving two performances of The Selfish Giant in the Howard Assembly Room.

The seats on the flat were removed, the audience seated on tiers and in the balcony, the acting area was simply furnished with a mighty tree branch and various sets of flower-bedecked steps and the seven-piece orchestra occupied one side of the acting space.

John Barber’s opera to Jessica Duchen’s libretto, co-commissioned by Garsington Opera, is an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s tale of a giant who chases all the children from his garden, but, eventually, with the aid of a linnet and one particular child, realises that beauty is to be shared by all.

Musically it is very accessible and attractive, with its dance rhythms and atmospheric writing for Spring and Winter, exploiting the unusual sonorities of three strings, accordion, bass clarinet doubling clarinet, piano and a fine array of percussion. The writing for the young people is tuneful, with short solo interludes, impeccably conducted by Nicholas Shaw.

Matthew Stiff’s resonant Giant is, perhaps, a bit under-directed, but makes his words count in excellent diction. Despite his initially terrifying appearance, preceded by mighty footfalls, he always appears to have the potential for goodness. The other professional, Julia Mariko Smith, has no words to worry about, but copes admirably with the high tessitura of the bird’s song. Barnaby Scholes, who sang the Child in the Garsington production last year, projects understated confidence.

Emma Black’s direction tends to keep the Youth Company in blocks, perhaps all playing the same game, with the result that, vocally, this is an excellent performance, with the choral singing beautifully balanced. The many short solo parts are generally well handled, a little underpowered in some cases, but always effective.

A delightful opera, very well performed, leaves one thinking that two sold-out performances are not really enough given the amount of hard work required to bring it to this stage.

Reviewed on 7th August 2022.

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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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