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16.5.07

Opera North


Leeds Grand Theatre, designed in Gothic Revival style, 1878
Have you heard about the little British company called Opera North? They call themselves the British "national opera company in the North," based in Leeds but taking productions all over the northern U.K., including Nottingham, Salford Quays, Newcastle, Sheffield, and Bradford this season. They are doing very interesting work, as described by David Ward in an article (Opera North fixes up a little-known baroque opera for new season, May 9) for The Guardian. They have resurrected something truly obscure (already soon to be mounted by the co-sponsor, Minnesota Opera), an opera called The Fortunes of King Croesus by Reinhard Keiser (1674-1739), the "father of German opera."
The marketeers are trying hard already, enthusing about Croesus's "gloriously lively invention". [...] Opera North is clearly prepared for the hard sell. But who sold Croesus to the company? It was Tim Albery, who directs the opera and two others (Madama Butterfly and Macbeth) in the 2007-8 season just announced. His most recent work with the company was the new production of Janacek's Katya Kabanova. Richard Mantle, ON's general director, admits he was persuaded by Albery's enthusiasm for Croesus, a work he had wanted to direct for some time. "There is huge variety in the piece," said Mantle. "Many of the arias are quite short and there is also spoken dialogue. The young male soprano Michael Maniaci will make his debut with the company as Atis. He has a most extraordinary voice."

There is also the feeling that the story of an immensely rich and powerful king who believes he is invulnerable is a "cautionary tale for our times". Croesus will be the company's third early opera within a year: Monteverdi's Orfeo has enjoyed what are called mixed reviews (and the odd boo) and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas has just opened in Leeds in a double bill with Stravinsky's Les Noces.
Opera North is returning to their newly renovated home, the Leeds Grand Theatre, where they will bring back their celebrated production of Peter Grimes by Phyllida Lloyd next season, in the same year as a new production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera North will also give the world premiere of Jonathan Dove's new opera, The Adventures Of Pinocchio, next season.

Andrew Clark recently reviewed that double bill of Dido and Aeneas and Les Noces (Les Noces/Dido and Aeneas Grand Theatre, Leeds, May 11) for the Financial Times:
Opera North is the canniest of companies. [...] Stravinsky’s ballet-cantata Les Noces and Purcell’s opera are not an obvious pairing, but I have yet to come across any satisfactory companion piece for Dido and Aeneas, which compresses the entire life-cycle into 55 minutes. Opera North could probably have got away with performing it on its own. Aletta Collins’ staging, designed by Giles Cadle, Gabrielle Dalton and Bruno Poet, marries the operatic and choreographic elements seamlessly. It is visually austere – plaited hair and plain black dresses, with a moon-like disc hovering as a symbol of fate – so that the work’s simplicity of utterance projects with laser-like directness. But its emotional force is undermined by a finale in which Dido cuts her wrists, making for a morbid, psychologically tangled death scene.
The Dido is a luscious voice, Susan Bickley. Other reviews were published by The Times, The Observer, and The Telegraph.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

FYI -- Minnesota Opera will not be performing "Croesus" until March 2008.

Charles T. Downey said...

Thanks for the correction. I wondered why I had not heard about the production at Minnesota Opera...

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Opera North are using the American male soprano Michael Maniaci as Atis in "Croesus". He seems to be a name to watch as he's just had a success at La Fenice, Venice where he apparently took over leading role in a Meyebeer opera at very short notice, I've read. Will Minnesota also be using him?

Charles T. Downey said...

I cannot ascertain anything about the Minnesota Opera cast for "Croesus." FYI, I have reviewed Michael Maniaci once, in the marvelous Santa Fe Lucio Silla.

Anonymous said...

It appears Vale Rideout will be singing Atis in the Minnesota production.

The company has vastly updated its Web site in recent weeks. Current cast info for "Croesus" can be found at http://www.mnopera.org/season/performances?module=performances&showid=7. Just click the "Cast+Creative Team" tab.