Sukanya

Sukanya

To say that Sukanya is Ravi Shankar’s only opera, while true, gives a misleading impression of his talent and influence on world music. Knowing he began writing it in the eighth decade of his life tells us more about his enthusiasm for music and his constant desire to find new ways to express this. It was to be his final work, and one can only imagine the weight of that in the hands of David Murphy, who completed the opera alongside Shankar’s daughter, Anoushka. Almost five years after Shankar’s death Murphy conducts the London Philharmonic for the opera’s premiere performances – the second of which is at The Lowry, Salford.

It feels like a true celebration, both of a life and of a true fusion of West and Eastern traditions. It opens with a solo sitar, the instrument for which Shankar was best known. Hearing Parimal Sadaphal play is probably as close as we’ll get to experiencing how Shankar might have interpreted it, given that he was taught by Shankar himself from the age of seven.

Sadaphal sits to one side of the foot of a wide staircase that opens to raised platform. At the other side sits Ashwani Shankar on the shehnai, an Indian instrument, like an oboe. The orchestra is seated on the stage and includes musicians playing the tabla, mridangam and ghatam percussion.

The scene is finally set using projections onto a backcloth, which take us from a night sky to a jungle, a palace and at one point we are in a room with photos of the maestro himself on the wall. Five classical Indian dancers, wearing ghungrus foot bells and five singers tell the story, supported the BBC singers chorus on both sides of the platform.

Visually there is a lot going on. At first it feels like the five singers are having to battle for attention. But, perhaps because in essence it is a simple static scene the atmosphere settles quickly and the overwhelming sense is one of space and rest. There are some wonderfully peaceful moments in the music as well as moments of vibrancy and joy that make you almost want to jump out of your seat and join in.

The story is based on a tale taken from an ancient Sanskrit, Mahābhārata. It tells a young princess, Sukanya whose destiny leads her to marry an old sage, Chyavana she finds in the woods, and her love is such that it restores both his youth and the sight to his bleeding eyes.

Shankar, who was 30 years older than his widow, Sukanya is said to have seen a connection between this ancient myth and his own life. The opera is named after his widow and it is as much a love letter to her as it is to his music.

The story itself is stretched to its limits, and there is one scene where Chyavana (Alok Kumar) sings to Sukanya (Susanna Hurrell) about the differences between Eastern and Western music, where we feel we’re being lectured to rather than entertained.

On the whole, this mythical love story is presented with a lightness of touch. The passion it creates is for the music and Shankar’s legacy is a genuine fusion of Eastern and Western traditions that feels a natural harmony.

Guest reviewer Carmel Thomason

 

 

Cinderella- La Cenerentola

'La Cenerentola' Opera performed by Opera North at the New Theatre, Leeds, UK

As part of their fairy-tale season which also includes Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel and Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden, Opera North brings Rossini’s delightful Cinderella to the Lowry stage. Playing around with the traditional, Rossini replaces the wicked step-mother with a hugely comedic yet down right unpleasant step-father (Henry Waddington), in place of a Fairy Godmother we see the Prince’s tutor Alidoro (John Savournin) who instead of waving a magical wand uses his skills of observation and disguise to best get to know the true hearts of our characters, also gone are the glass slippers, replaced by a simple but effective pair of friendship bracelets.

'La Cenerentola' Opera performed by Opera North at the New Theatre, Leeds, UK

Director/Choreographer Aletta Collins’ combined skills perfectly match this production which is based in wicked step-father Don Magnifico’s school of dance, where poor Cinderella (Wallis Giunta) remains kind of heart despite being bullied and bossed about by her ghastly (but oh so funny) step-sisters, Clorinda (Sky Ingram) and Tisbe (Amy J. Payne). The course of true love never did run smooth so why not mix things up a little more with a swapping of roles as Dandini (Quirijn de Lang) the Princes’ Valet dresses up as the Prince in order to discover which of the ladies truly deserve the Princes’ hand.

'La Cenerentola' Opera performed by Opera North at the New Theatre, Leeds, UK

Giles Cadle’s inventive set which is used by all three operas is wonderfully adaptable with the addition of some highly inventive digital technology which allows Cinderella during her lowest moments; see herself in happier times, a hint of what is to come? Of course!

Opera North have succeeded again in creating a bold and enormously fun Opera, their commitment to making Opera more accessible and inclusive is clear and wonderfully reflected by the wide variety of audience members. Cinderella offers something for everyone; it’s incredibly witty with fabulously comedic performances from ugly sisters Sky Ingram and Amy J. Payne, they thrill the audience with their tantrums and vulgar behaviour, over indulged by Father Don Magnifico, performed spectacularly by Henry Waddington. The trio are fabulous fun, uncouth and deliciously unpleasant.

'La Cenerentola' Opera performed by Opera North at the New Theatre, Leeds, UK

South African tenor Sunnyboy Dladla makes a stunning Company debut as the Prince; he delivers each note effortlessness and has a delightfully warm tone plus all the charm you would wish for from a fairy-tale Prince. Also making her debut is Canadian mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta, she is utterly mesmerising, her goose-bump inducing aria’s are worth the ticket price alone. The chemistry between the two is wonderful and their duets sublime. Add to this John Savournin and Quirijn de Lang giving strong performances as both Alidoro and Dandini, plus the wonderful Chorus of Opera North frequently arriving en masse as the Courtiers and you have one seriously stellar line up.

'La Cenerentola' Opera performed by Opera North at the New Theatre, Leeds, UK

Opera North’s revamp of Rossini’s comedy-opera is a joy, full of fun, laughter and superb performances and although Rossini’s version is traditionally enchantment free, the magic of Opera North is here for all to see.

Next and final Lowry performance Saturday 11th March 2pm, tickets available here https://www.thelowry.com/events/cinderella

Preview – Bat Out Of Hell- The Musical

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Exactly one month to the day Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical will be all revved up and ready to take to the stage at the Manchester Opera House for the first night of an impressive seven week run of what is set to become one of the biggest musical theatre events of the year.

Originally called Neverland, and based on a futuristic version of Peter Pan which writer Jim Steinman originally work-shopped in 1974, Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical has been many years in the planning. Set against the backdrop of a post-cataclysmic city adrift from the mainland we meet Strat (Andrew Polec) the forever young leader of The Lost who has fallen for Raven (Christina Bennington), who has been locked away in the palace towers by her Father Falco (Rob Fowler), the oppressive ruler of Obsidian. The show takes us on an adventure of romance, rebellion and rock ‘n’ roll and features many of the monster hits we all know and love including You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth, Bat Out Of Hell, I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) and Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, as well as two previously unreleased songs, What Part of My Body Hurts the Most and Not Allowed to Love.

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We were lucky enough to be treated to a preview from the rehearsal rooms and boy is Manchester in for a treat! The large cast are absolutely full of energy and sounded incredible, Polec led the charge as we were given a taste of what to expect when the show premieres at the Opera House on 17th February. Directed by award-winning theatre and opera director Jay Scheib, Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical is no doubt set to become a theatrical triumph , vibrant, sassy and full of attitude, the cast delivered each song with passion and were brimming with energy and the self-assured confidence you’d wish for from any rock star. The cutting edge and dynamic choreography of Emma Portner compliments the soundtrack perfectly and adds even more attitude to already explosive performances.

Sitting down with director Jay Scheib and producers David Sonenberg, Michael Cohl, and Tony Smith we heard more about the work that has gone into bringing this production together and the commitment they each have to ensuring the dream of seeing Bat Out Of Hell turned into a musical becomes not just a reality but an exciting and vibrant theatrical experience. Discussing the appeal and longevity of the music Scheib said, “You can have one perspective on the songs as a teenager and that perspective can shift as you move into different stages of your life, some songs get old where these songs just get different and their meaning changes, so they are always relevant”. David Sonenberg noted also that “Steinman first wrote the song titles then challenged himself to write a song that lived up to the title, he is a brilliant lyricist, just amazing at writing melodies”.

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It’s clear to see why Andrew Polec was given the lead role; the minute the music starts he is transformed into Strat, totally focussed and committed to delivering a performance Meatloaf himself would be proud of, if there is such a thing as having ‘it’ then Polec has got ‘it’ in bucket loads. It’s clear to see why the producers knew so quickly when Polec arrived at the open casting in the United States that he was “Born to play the part”, his casting in the role couldn’t be more perfect, Tony Smith states “You have to have an incredible voice for these songs, he’s not blown away by the scale of these songs, he’s amazing” Beautifully complimenting Polec’s strutting and rebellious Strat is Christina Bennington as Raven, she has the most beautiful voice and a wide-eyed innocence that’s just waiting to be corrupted by some serious rock ‘n’ roll, Bennington describes Raven’s meeting with Strat as a meeting of minds, “…she craves the love of her parents but feels suffocated by it, once she meets Strat she feels there’s the chance of a whole new kind of freedom but, she has an internal battle as she is torn between the love of her parents and her love for Strat”.

There is some real star quality involved in this new musical, the heartfelt delivery of new song What Part of My Body Hurts the Most by Rob Folwer and Sharon Sexton gave me goosebumps, emotional and touching the quality of the writing is so good it would be right at home on any of the Bat Out Of Hell albums. Fowler describes the songs as “…totally relatable, they tell the story for you, they’re full of honesty, even the new songs feel so familiar” a true sign of excellent writing. Likewise Danielle Steers and Dom Hartly- Harris give a powerful, emotionally charged performance of Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad that left me desperate to see more. Manchester audiences may also recognise Andrew Patrick-Walker, most recently seen in Hair at Hope Mill Theatre, Andrew is thrilled to be returning to Manchester with such an exciting and ground-breaking show.

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There is some serious weight behind this production, the sets and costumes promise to be spectacular with the building of the set beginning at the Opera House almost 6 weeks before opening night it is a show of enormous scale. Following our discussions with the cast and creatives it is obvious that this show is going to be nothing short of epic, the care taken to ensure this production is of the highest standard is clear to see, the opportunity to get to know Bat Out Of Hell as a theatrical piece is going to be an absolute joy, roll on February!

Tickets are available now via http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/bat-out-of-hell/opera-house-manchester/

http://www.batoutofhellmusical.com

17 February – 29 April 2017

Opera House, Manchester

Performances: Mon-Sat at 7.30pm, Thurs & Sat at 2.30pm (no matinee on Sat 18 February)

Tickets: from £17.50

Billy Budd – Opera North

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The good ship Opera North has sailed into Salford Quays with its stellar performance of Benjamin Britten’s ‘Billy Budd’ – a tale of high drama on the high seas aboard The Indomitable.

Ensconced in the bowels of The Lowry, with a superb view of Leslie Travers’ ‘handsome’ set, you are immediately transported back to 1797 by Captain Edmund Fairfax Vere (Alan Oke) – reflecting on the arrival of Able Seaman Billy Budd (Roderick Williams), who has been pressganged into joining the fight against the ‘Frenchies’.

Uncommonly beautiful – and possessing a disarming goodness – Billy endears himself to all classes of men… except the dastardly Master-at-Arms John ‘Jemmy Legs’ Claggart (Alastair Miles). Recruiting the services of a reluctant Novice (Oliver Johnston), whose spirit he has broken by a brutal flogging, cruel Claggart plots Billy’s downfall with a maniacal zeal…

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The stage is set for a titanic clash of good and evil, as The Indomitable presses on into enemy territory through a cloak of mist – a fitting metaphor for Captain Vere’s clouded conscience as he presides over the climatic court hearing to determine Billy’s fate.

An immersive, dramatic tale with themes that are as enduring as the classics Captain Vere frequently calls to mind, ‘Billy Budd’ is stupendously entertaining – an affecting character study of the intrinsically good, the duplicitously evil and the tormented adjudicator.

London tenor Oliver Johnston’s depiction of the wretched Novice is worthy of individual praise for the haunting inflection he lends to every perfectly-pitched note. Crouched face-down, bloodied from flogging and shrouded by the threat of his own demise, he is mesmeric – offering a sensitive counterpoint to the frequent bluster of the ranking commanders he serves.

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Stephen Richardson’s Dansker, Daniel Norman’s Red Whiskers and David Llewellyn’s Squeak all serve the production well, with characterful performances that add welcome touches of lightness and humour, while Alastair Miles’ Claggart skilfully delivers a contemptible villain without dipping into pantomime territory. (Boos at the final curtain aside!)

Roderick Williams, as the titular Billy Budd, is effused with the requisite air of unsullied innocence – boasting all the likeability of the character he inhabits. Sitting alone, illuminated by a sole spotlight, he is particularly memorable – taking the audience by the hand on his journey from sorrow through to noble acceptance of his fate.

Beautiful to look at, in the style of a Renaissance painting, the ensemble segments offer a wonderful opportunity to appreciate Leslie Travers’ costumes – a palette of muted greys and creams enlivened by the blues, golds and reds of the officers’ jackets – while the masterful lighting design of Thomas C. Hase brings the pared-back set dramatically to life with every developing plot twist.

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Of course, the musical brilliance of the show is underpinned by the accomplished orchestra, conducted by Garry Walker and led by David Greed, who became (at that time) the youngest leader in the country when he joined the Orchestra of the Opera North in 1978; also, the chorus, which has been restored to its full complement of 36 full-time members (no small feat in the challenging financial climate the arts face). A much-deserved ovation as the curtain came down marked the audience’s appreciation.

Director Orpha Phelan last worked with Leslie Travers on Bellini’s ‘I Capuleti e i Montecchi’ in 2008. Together, they can feel very proud to have created a wonderfully entertaining and visually stunning rendition of ‘Billy Budd’ – a quarter of a century since it was last staged by Opera North.

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Sang in English – with subtitles for the deaf, deafened and hard of hearing – this is an extremely accessible performance that both novice and veteran opera-goers can enjoy alike.

‘Billy Budd’ will next be staged at The Theatre Royal in Nottingham on 17 November at 7pm. Click to book: https://www.operanorth.co.uk/productions/billy-budd

 

La Bohème Preview

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Renowned Opera producer Ellen Kent returns to Manchester’s Opera House this month with Puccini’s beloved and one of the most popular classic operatic stories ever told, La Bohème.

Puccini’s masterpiece, with its soaring melodies and emotionally stirring orchestration is based on Henri Murger’s novel Scenes de la vie de Boheme, it includes many  unforgettable arias  including the beautiful ‘Your Tiny  Hand  is Frozen’, ‘They Call Me Mimi’ and ‘Musetta’s Waltz’.

Set in Paris, La Bohème tells the tale of ill-fated lovers Mimi and penniless writer Rodolfo. Mimi and Rodolfo instantly connect but Mimi’s flirty behaviour leads Rodolfo to call time on their love, wracked with guilt and pining for his sweetheart he soon returns to his lover but of course this being an opera there’s a sprinkling of tragedy to deal with along the way.

Ellen Kent’s La Bohème will be traditionally staged featuring stunning sets and beautiful costumes. The set will reflect the Bohemian art of the Parisian period and included in the show will be the additional treats of a live brass band, wintry snow effects and even Musetta’s dog which will make an entrance.

Said producer Ellen Kent: “The scene when Mimi and Rodolfo meet and she sings They Call Me Mimi always makes me cry. It’s a lovely piece of music. I try to do opera that the audience can emotionally connect with, not just on a musical level but with the personal drama happening on the stage.”

French soprano Olga Perrier together with the international soprano Ecaterina Danu are returning to star in this production as Muzetta and Mimi respectively. The international tenors Giorgio Meladze and Vitalii Liskovetskiy are also returning after they have previously enjoyed huge success performing in the UK.

Sung in Italian with English subtitles, La Bohème really makes Opera accessible for all, entertaining, poignant and playful, La Bohème is the ideal introduction for newcomers looking to explore what Opera has to offer as well as being a treat for the established Opera lovers amongst us.

Book now at www.atgtickets.com/Manchester or by calling the box office on 0844 871 3018.

La Bohème – Opera House, Manchester

Saturday 12th November 2016

Perf Times: 7.30pm

0844 871 3018* http://www.atgtickets.com/manchester *

*Booking/transaction fee applies