Opera North Blog

The Little Greats: What to see?


Not sure what to choose? Some of The Little Greats cast and creative team give us an introduction to each miniature gem, and let us in on some of their personal highlights.

Firstly, our Learned Judge (baritone Jeremy Peaker) and Plaintiff (soprano Amy Freston) introduce us to Gilbert and Sullivan and their Trial by Jury.

JP: "Gilbert and Sullivan is so easily accessible by everyone. The subject matter of their work is as relevant today as it was in the 1880s, and particularly relevant in times of political turmoil. W.S. Gilbert wrote about the establishment – the police, the peers, the justice system – in a satirical way, so these pieces have never been more apt! Trial by Jury itself is about a breach of promise, which in those days, was an actual crime. It’s light-hearted and incredibly funny." 

AF: "Gilbert and Sullivan has so much appeal because it's funny, clever, universal and everyone can relate to it even though it is often dressed up in ridiculous costumes and situations. It is also unusual to hear the English language used so well and so wittily – it takes so much to write a good libretto. It’s also such good fun to perform! There’s dialogue AND singing, so it’s an acting challenge and quite a lot to pull off – it’s like doing part of a play. In Trial by Jury, I am particularly looking forward to doing something as an ensemble with the rest of the Chorus of Opera North and working with them." 

Trial by Jury is cast entirely from the Chorus of Opera North

Our Canio, tenor Peter Auty, gives us his insight into Leoncavallo's Pagliacci.

PA: "The Pagliacci audience can expect to feel shock! A short, sharp, shock. Opera affects the guts. If you get it right, there’s a visceral reaction that you can’t get anywhere else in any other way. 

My role, Canio the clown, comes with many challenges. The biggest is probably THE aria ‘Vesti la giubba’, mainly because it is so well known and what the audience has been waiting for, but also because it comes at a moment of high octane drama in the piece, which makes the vocal and physical demands of the aria even greater – there is often a lot going on physically prior to that moment. However, people are often surprised that there is a lot more to Pagliacci than just that aria! My personal highlight is the contemplative moment in the finale [the play within an opera], where Canio becomes introspective during his tirade against his unfaithful wife, Nedda." 

Peter also appears in Janáček's Osud as Dr. Suda.

Charles Edwards, Set Designer for The Little Greats and also Pagliacci Director, lets us in on his top picks for the season so far... 

CE: "Real discoveries for me so far have been Osud and Trouble in Tahiti, which were both new to me. I have designed a number of Janáček's operas and find astonishing pre-echoes of Katya Kabanova and The Makropulos Case in Osud, and the dramaturgy of the piece is fabulously characteristic of this composer. I am fascinated by the autobiographical slant of the piece and its discussion of opera and the creative process.

Trouble in Tahiti is witty and at the same time deeply moving: Bernstein's analysis of a marriage on the rocks and its commentary on the American Dream is not just a 1950s period piece, and his characterisation is faultless, in what is a tiny jewel of musical theatre. I hear some Puccini in this music, and much of that composer's theatrical insight and skill. But all the pieces in The Little Greats are fascinating and to see them all should be quite an experience and will expose an intertwined series of themes and ideas."

Soprano Giselle Allen introduces us to Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, and what she is looking forward to most about The Little Greats season.

GA: "Cavalleria rusticana's music is very beautiful. It will also be familiar to many people – most will know the beautiful Easter Hymn and the Intermezzo as popular classical pieces. It has a story that any will be able to relate to – full of jealousy, love, passion, human beings and human relationships. Santuzza (my character) loves very deeply, but she isn’t a sophisticated person and doesn’t stop to analyse – she just reacts using her gut instinct, often without thinking about the consequences! I think it is a very emotionally truthful piece. 

I’m particularly looking forward to the challenges of playing two different characters this season. The roles of Santuzza (Cavalleria rusticana) and Míla (Osud) are stylistically and musically very different, but they each go on a distinct dramatic journey. On one night, I have to play both characters back to back! It will be interesting making the switch from one to the other…" 

Lastly, our Dinah (mezzo soprano Wallis Giunta) and Sam (baritone Quirijn de Lang) introduce us to Bernstein's mini masterpiece Trouble in Tahiti, their favourite moments and their characters.

WG: "This story is something everyone can relate to. It’s about life, family, marriage, love, fidelity, being true to yourself, and especially communication. These are things that everyone deals with on a daily basis.

The music for Trouble in Tahiti is genuine and beautiful, but also accessible. It is rooted in the jazz style and also in the popular style of that time, of the 1950s, yet the arias and meat of the piece is gorgeous, lyrical writing. Bernstein is one of the most beloved composers of the 20th century for a reason – he writes things that people immediately feel in their heart, and his music is easy to access. It’s simple, but incredibly profound and touching. I especially love the opening jazz trio 'Mornin' sun' – it’s really fun! The trio are like a Greek chorus – they’re not in the action, but they comment on what is to come, and the way they sing reminds me of backup singers for Diana Ross!"

QdL: "Trouble in Tahiti is more like a play than an opera in many ways. The story is tightly wound, it’s in English and the music is very accessible, with a lot of mixing of 20th century rhythms and jazz influences.

The story is very relatable. Audiences will definitely recognise the feeling of not being able to communicate with the person you share your dreams and passions with. My character, Sam, has all the things that society says that he wants and needs, but it does not make him happy. He and his wife Dinah long for a personal connection that they have lost, but they don’t know how to do it! It is easier to keep to the routine and the rut that they are stuck in than to connect. This is a ‘day in the life of…’ story – we don’t know how it will continue..." 

Wallis and Quirijn both also appear in L'enfant et les sortilèges, as The Child and Grandfather Clock/Tom Cat. 

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Photography by Richard Moran |  Artwork © Opera North 2017. 

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