“Basingstoke, it is”

Cards on the table, I had never seen an opera until last night. Unless you count Phantom of the Opera. Which I doubt.

So, I had no idea what to expect when I took my seat to see Opera North’s Ruddigore - apparently one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s lesser known operettas. 

Things got off to a great start with a very funny silent movie pastiche, setting up the story of beautiful young Hannah who left her love on their wedding day after he admitted to being Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, one of the bad baronets of Ruddigore cursed to commit a crime a day.

Skip forward some years to the same picturesque Cornish village where Dame Hannah now watches over her niece Rose Maybud. Rose loves shy farmer Robin Oakapple, but history may repeat itself as Robin is also a Murgatroyd, presumed dead after fleeing to avoid inheriting the Baronetcy and its curse. 

For all the capers and comedy in Act One, it is Act Two where things really get off the ground. Re-located to Ruddigore Castle, Set Designer Richard Hudson plays a blinder with an imposing room hung with portraits of Ruddigore baronets gone by.  Do they come to life? Of course, and it is the highlight of the night.

Director Jo Davies keeps a sense of fun throughout. The silent movie, gothic melodrama is ever present – whether it be fresh-faced, simpering heroines or moustachioed, cloak-twirling villains.

Heather Shipp and Richard Burkhard bring tremendous energy, camping it up madly as Mad Margaret and her love, Sir Despard. Their heart-stopping rendition of the Patter Trio with Robin (Grant Doyle) is a treat, although the aficionado behind me claimed it was “too slow”. I don’t see how they could have sang it any faster without asphyxiating, but what do I know.

With all its impossibly fast songs, the lyrics often got lost and sometimes I was struggling to hear. So I was pleased when it all took a breath for a moment to allow Sir Roderic (Steven Page) and Dame Hannah (South Shield’s born Anne Marie Owens) to sing their touching duet.

Coming in at a hefty two hours and forty-five minutes, my attention did wander at times and I can’t help but think that Act One could have done with a trim.

That said, funny, entertaining, beautiful to look at and handled with a light touch - Ruddigore was the perfect introduction for an opera novice like me.