Opera North's tribute to the French Capital "from Puccini to Piaf", From Paris with Love, is a most pleasant way to spend an evening and more imaginatively structured than many of the programmes devised by opera houses unable, in the current financial climate, to mount as many full-scale opera productions as they would like. From Paris with Love is not especially memorable, but the Valentine's Day audience left smiling.
The first half consists of extracts from very late-19th century operas about Paris, with a couple of orchestral interludes before a front-cloth with effective projections, both naturalistic and impressionistic. The on-stage design by Ana-Sofia Londono is also impressionistic, a cafe scene decorated with mysterious hangings and lit equally mysteriously by Mike Lock.
Leoncavallo's La Bohème is a particularly enterprising choice and, in the Act 3 duet between Marcello and Musette – passionately sung by Peter Auty and Gabriela Iştoc – there is enough verismo fire to make me regret its total eclipse by Puccini's version, though the magnificent quartet that ends Puccini's Act 3 closes the first half and leaves no room for argument!
Charpentier's Louise, the Parisian opera par excellence but seldom known to cross the Channel, enables Gabriella Istoc, one of the Mimìs in Opera North's next La Bohème (Puccini, of course), to bring a joyous freshness to "Depuis le jour", though the comic chorus of seamstresses loses impact through lack of context. This lack of context is, I am sure, the reason why Musetta's Waltz Song, sung by the generally excellent Jeni Bern, goes for so little. Geoffrey Dolton, without much to do, is rather irritatingly cast in the first half as a sort of ringmaster/MC.
He comes into his own after the interval. Fanciful decor has gone, replaced by James Holmes at the piano with a quartet, poised to accompany a series of chansons. Dolton and Bern point their songs skilfully, Istoc delivers a sensitive "La Vie en Rose" and all three pay boisterous tribute to the Champs Elysées in Joe Dassin's song of that name, in the course of which the rear curtains rise to reveal David Parry and the orchestra, ready to chase through the last movement of Ibert's Divertissement and accompany a final Offenbach sequence.
The evening has to end with the Infernal Galop from Orpheus in the Underworld, but this is rather tame compared with Auty's Orpheus tormenting Bern's cloth-eared Eurydice with his latest concerto, orchestra leader David Greed menacing Jeni Bern in a remarkably funny double act.
Rosalind Parker's direction (with Annabel Arden) creates an entertaining, varied and oddly friendly evening which could have done with a touch more slickness – and maybe a contribution from Opera North's splendid male chorus.