For its latest offering Opera North is touring a double bill of short works that at first sight may seem an unlikely pairing. La Voix Humaine composed in 1958 is a solo piece centering on a woman during a fraught telephone call as she tries to cling on to her lover. In Dido and Aeneas, a 17th century piece we are taken back to ancient Carthage.
Putting two very different operatic pieces together is risky. Does it dilute the evening robbing an audience of the richness of a full length work? Within such a short space of time can the composer, singers and director make each piece satisfying in its own right; not distracting from the other so that the whole evening can become greater than the sum of its parts?
Well, cleverly the Director Aletta Collins links these two pieces about forsaken women through costume, a dressing table, a bottle of pills and some very cunning mirror images. And doubling as choreographer she ensures the operas move with a theatricality encompassing drama and dark humour.
La Voix Humaine sees the return to the operatic stage of Lesley Garrett and for 45 minutes she holds the attention with a performance of great skill and variety. Her diction is crystal clear and she moves from excitement, through longing to despair with consummate ease. She captures all the changes of Elle’s emotions through her voice, face and body language in a riveting tour-de-force.
In Dido and Aeneas, the chorus sing from the orchestra pit allowing the principal singers (and dancers) to focus the attention. It is beautifully played and the performances of Pamela Helen Stephen and Amy Freston are a delight. Philip Rhodes is a strong Aeneas and Heather Shipp has a forceful presence. There is good support from the rest of the company.
Under the Conductor Wyn Davies the orchestra produces two very different sounds, and while the music may at times overpower in the first half, the lyricism of Purcell is beautifully to the fore and sympathetically in balance with the singers.
While it may be heaven to wallow in three plus hours of Puccini or Verdi, Opera North must be praised for bringing something different on tour and thanks to the singers, director and sheer artistry of the company make the Lowry seem so intimate.