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Opera North at Sadlers Wells

Rigoletto, La voix humaine & Peter Grimes





Verdi – Rigoletto

21 November 2006

Conductor – Martin Andre
Director / Designer – Charles Edwards
Costumes – Brigitte Reiffenstuel

Rigoletto – Alan Opie
Gilda – Henriette Bonde-Hansen
Duke – Rafael Rojas
Sparafucile – Brindley Sherratt
Maddalena – Rebecca de Pont Davies
Monterone – Stephen Richardson
Marullo – Olafur Sigurdarson





Poulenc – La voix humaine

22 November 2006

Conductor – Paul Watkins
Director – Deborah Warner
Designer – Tom Pye
Lighting – Jean Kalman

The Woman – Joan Rodgers

Britten – Peter Grimes

23 November 2006

Conductor – Richard Farnes
Director   – Phyllida Lloyd
Designs – Anthony Ward
Lighting – Paule Constable

Peter Grimes – Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts
Ellen Orford – Giselle Allen
Capt Balstrode – Christopher Purves
Auntie – Yvonne Howard
Nieces – Amy Freston & Claire Booth
Bob Boles – Alan Oke
Swallow – Richard Angas
Mrs Smedley – Ethna Robinson
Rev Horace Adams – Nigel Robson
Ned Keene – Roderick Williams
Hobson – Stephen Richardson
Dr Crabbe – Dominic Burns
John the Apprentice – Aaron Eastwood



Opera North may be poor country cousins compared with ENO in budgetary terms, but their current Sadlers Wells season shows them to be rich indeed in artistic values.

Their Rigoletto was certainly not a glamorous production, rather it emphasised the sleaziness of the plot with the duke an aging porn baron and Rigoletto his scruffy and surly caretaker.   The concept was well realised and carried through, taking us in the later Acts to the caravan park where Rigoletto and Sparafucile live as neighbours.

Alan Opie, in the title role gave a performance well up to his usual high standard, in fine voice and exploiting every emotional nuance in the score. Rafael Rojas may have been got up to look like a playboy rather past his best, but his voice was in fine shape.  
Henriette Bonde-Hansen showed off a pleasantly clear tone and had the right air of vulnerability to make a memorable Gilda, but she needs to overcome a tendency to play to the audience.   Brindley Sherratt proved a terrifyingly believable punk killer and my heart went out to Monterone (Stephen Richardson) who spent much of his time soaked in blood.

The male chorus was nothing short of magnificent.

La voix humaine was an adventurous choice – could one singer holding the stage for forty minutes in a one-sided telephone conversation constitute a full evening of entertainment?   

The answer for those for whom journey time was not a consideration was a resounding “yes”.

A brightly lit stage was furnished as a clinically modern en-suite bedroom   providing a range settings for Joan Rodgers, cast as the neurotic “elle”.   She awakes from a drug-induced sleep to find herself lying in a pool of water from her overflowing bath – and the situation just goes down hill from there.    The score is peppered with dramatic pauses which need to be seamlessly dovetailed between singer and orchestra - Rodgers and her young conductor, Paul Watkins had clearly established the high level of rapport required.

Emotional intensity ran high and commanded rapt attention from the audience, a completely satisfying evening.

Finally, they returned Peter Grimes to Sadlers Wells, its original home theatre.  

The staging was outstanding, direction (Phyllida Lloyd), design ( Anthony Ward ) and lighting ( Paule Constable) were handled to perfection.   Simplicity was the key, employing a virtually empty performing space with seascape back drop, a giant fishnet suspended above and a supply of slatted wooden frames which could be used as platforms or built into barricade like structures.

Again the chorus was impressive, producing an enormous wall of sound whether praying for deliverance from the storm or as a baying lynch mob hot in the pursuit of Grimes.

In the title role Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts gave a dramatically impressive arresting performance.   His powerfully built frame added an extra dimension of menace to Peter Grimes, yet he further surprised by producing the most delicate of pianissimo passages.   His voice may not always have sounded beautiful, but it was well in keeping with a man clearly troubled by inner demons.

There were sympathetic and thoughtful portrayals of his two supporters from Giselle Allen as a young looking Helen Orford, and the ever dependable Christopher Purves as Capt Balstrode.   In the large cast Amy Freston and Claire Booth stood out as a leggy and enticingly delinquent pair of nieces and I was impressed by the firm rounded tone and clear diction of Roderick Williams as Ned Keene

On all three nights the orchestral playing was dashing and they adapted well to the differing mood of each composer.

A very impressive trio of productions which threw down a real challenge to London 's resident companies.

Serena Fenwick



Image (Peter Grimes) Bill Cooper