1. Little known opera
Come to see a British premiere! Not that many people have heard of Polish composer Mieczysław Weinberg, let alone seen one of his operas. The Portrait is a gem of an opera, with exciting music and an engaging story, and director David Pountney has transformed it into a bold, funny and heartfelt spectacle.
2. Colourful Cast
There are 12 of us in The Portrait, led by tenor Paul Nilon who I have been a fan of for many years. To create and maintain atmosphere on stage for two hours without the help of a chorus, we all have to be at the top of our game every night. Huge amounts of energy, commitment and concentration is required.
3. Crazy, colourful costumes
There are 37 different characterful costumes in this production, which is a lot for a cast of twelve. Seven are worn by Peter Savidge as he switches from role to role. My favourite is the Landlady, a gaudy bright blue dress with a huge bustle and hat which looks like a shower cap. He looks hilarious! The costumes are period so the level of detail that has gone in to each is incredible. Costume Designer Dan Potra has a great eye for colours, fabrics and textures and these are some of the most sumptuous I have ever seen.
4. Singers on stilts
Ever seen an opera singer on stilts? There are eight in this production (thankfully not me!) all about nine feet tall with giant costumes to cover the mechanics. The stilts are attached by clipping into your shoes and there are buckles which tie around the calf for extra support and flexibility - vital for moving around the stage. Painters and decorators use the same ones to reach high ceilings! It was fun watching the cast learn how to walk in them and get used to not looking down whilst singing. They have all mastered it now!
5. Comic appeal
Although the opera deals with the serious subject of integrity in art, there is a huge comic element. There are characters being flown above the stage, coming in on zip wires, there's even an overgrown policeman and a baby in a pram, complete with machine gun!! My comic character is a very special case as she has no legs to speak of and whizzes around the stage on a floating platform. It's actually a mini electric scooter with the handlebars cunningly hidden by the costume. I can't tell you how much fun it was, getting to grips with it in rehearsals. I think the whole cast has had a go at some point. I just have to make sure I don't end up in the orchestra pit!
Opera North's The Portrait is at the Lowry, Salford Quays on 3 March.
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