Fiddler in the Woods: an Opera North OverviewDate: 29 September 2010
The Howard Assembly Room at the Grand Theatre is more than just an attractive and flexible venue for concerts, films, exhibitions and the occasional opera, though it certainly is that, as well as being home to the Orchestra of Opera North. In addition, it enables Opera North to stage a series of complementary events which provide a commentary on the Main Stage productions.
This Autumn the theme has been Back to the Woods, exploring what Project Director Dominic Gray calls “the green-leaved heartland of Europe” and its folk traditions in support of the company’s superb production of Jonathan Dove and Alasdair Middleton’s The Adventures of Pinocchio. And the centre-piece of Back to the Woods is another Opera North commission with libretto by Alasdair Middleton, The Gypsy Bible.
The music for The Gypsy Bible comes from Joe Townsend, the folk violin virtuoso with remarkable knowledge of the music and legends of Central Europe. As a teenager he travelled with his violin across Europe, living with different communities and learning from the gypsies of Transylvania both their own style of playing and many folk tales and traditional stories about the violin.
Set in the workshop of an old violin maker, The Gypsy Bible uses those tales to create a collage of stories about love, rural poverty and pacts with the Devil. The music, of course, is in no way conventionally operatic, bringing together wild Romanian rhythms, English ballads and virtuoso playing from some of the UK’s most exciting folk musicians.
Directed by Complicite Associate Director Catherine Alexander, The Gypsy Bible is described as “a full show which straddles both theatre and gig”. It might seem surprising that such an exciting-sounding show to which Opera North has committed much development time should appear for one single performance at the Howard Assembly Room and only five in all. However, these Opera North projects have a habit of bubbling under and reappearing; for instance, Mercy and Grand, a reinterpretation of the songs of Tom Waits (in which Joe Townsend appeared), began with a single show at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2007, went on tour in the following year and is now being recorded.
As for the Back to the Woods season future events range from a chance to sing Jonathan Dove’s music for Pinocchio (October 23rd) to an evening with Kneehigh Theatre In the Deepest Part of the Forest (November 10th) to Moravian Folk Poetry in Song with the Skampa Quartet and Iva Bittova (November 24th).
– Ron Simpson
In October The Gypsy Bible tours to Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham (13th), the Howard Assembly Room, Leeds (15th), The Sage Gateshead (23rd), The Lowry, Salford Quays (24th) and the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield (26th).
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