The crinolines have been bustling across the lacquered floor of Northern Ballet’s atrium. Sumptuous dress and contralto have quivered through the air and, for a short time at least, the vestiges of the Viennese court have run amongst the lithe shapes of the Company dancers and the flurries of children in tutus. Sitting to next to parents with panini’s and dotted amongst employees power-lunching the casual observer might spot Dr. Bartolo chowing down with a pasty, a coiffured Count making the most of a baked potato and bonneted ladies taking to the lift in search of another hairpin. And what’s it all for?
It’s Leeds College of Music’s production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Notoriously reviled upon opening – Emperor Jozef II infamously yawned in the inaugural production, the kiss of death according to Shaffer’s play – the opera has gone on to be one of the most cherished of Mozart’s works. Indeed, if the appetite for tickets is anything to go by the nuptials of the caddish valet have lost none of their appeal. Sold-out for the weekend and threatening to sell out for its week night performances, Jane Anthony and John Longstaff’s production will faithfully take on the unabridged majesty of the opera.
De Ponte’s libretto, the first collaboration with Mozart, has been translated into English for the performance. The director, Jane Anthony, says this is because the comedy and fun of the piece are more communicable in the vernacular. She says the whole experience has been great. But it’s not the first of its kind for her. John Longstaff (Conductor) and Jane are seasoned in working together, having collaborated on previous productions including Mozart’s The Magic Flute and a production of The Marriage of Figaro in 2007. Longstaff and Anthony have also collaborated on operatic double-bills at The Venue including a 2009 production combining the 19th century floridity of Franz von Suppé’s Ten Brides and No Groom and the atonal expressionism of Kurt Weill’s The Tsar Has His Photograph Taken. Similar ventures have included a double-bill of Englebert Humperdinck’s (doomed to have it stressed that he’s not that one) Hansel and Gretel and Lennox Berkeley’s A Dinner Engagement. In 2007 Longstaff arranged Claudio Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppeafor a string quartet and a quartet of saxophones. It is this ingenious arrangement that has so marked the quality of their work together and, indeed, John’s work with Northern Ballet.
In all of these ventures Longstaff and Anthony have challenged and delighted audiences and students alike, blending the unfamiliar with the more well-known to produce evenings of music that endure in the memory long after the last strain fades. But, crucially, their work together has always challenged the students who perform it. Speaking about this year’s production of The Marriage of Figaro, Anthony says that for many of the performers this will be their first major production. She enthuses about how brilliantly they have risen to the challenge of this opera and how much there is to expect from each of them.
When not bonneted, corseted and in full song these students have been furiously flyering and garnering support around Leeds. Alongside the already substantial fan-base of the Leeds College of Music Opera Group, supporters of Northern Ballet and opera-lovers in general, this has helped ensure this production has got the audience it deserves.
The staging of a full-scale opera, complete with orchestra, certainly makes the most of the flexibility of the Studio Theatre. Later in the year members of Northern Ballet’s Sinfonia will be performing a series of intimate orchestral recitals here (see Northern Ballet Ensemble events at our Studio Theatre) and it is currently playing host to Leeds Met Gallery and Studio Theatre’s season of the most adventurous and experimental works on the theatrical circuit.
From the vantage-point of the reception desk it’s an absolute treat to see this incongruous made congruous by the possibilities of the building. Playing host to major corporate conference on one day and turning over the Studio in preparation for the skirt-chasing operatics of the Spanish aristocracy the next, the building has swiftly become abuzz with the most plentiful variety of artistic life in Leeds.
Whether Mozart and De Ponte would ever have imagined their courtly hi-jinx sharing its space with belly-dancers, conferences or performances in camper vans (see Running on Air) is unclear, but it is obvious from the demand for tickets that opera-lovers from the North have no difficulty imagining it at all.