It is amazing how one small act of kindness can lift your mood in a spectacular way.
Last Saturday night I was booked to see the above concert in Leeds and so, as I have had some disastrous experiences with Harrogate Bus Company’s 36 recently, I set off ridiculously early to get there in time. Sure enough, the bus arrived, but displayed on its electronic destination screen was a message saying that it was full, so it went gliding majestically by. I decided that, as the next one wasn’t due for another half hour, I would take the twenty minute walk into town and catch it at the bus station so I would hopefully be sure of a seat. I did try to execute this strategy a couple of weeks ago but the bus after the full one was cancelled so I had to get the train and rush to the theatre from City Station.
As a result of this my blood was simmering rather than boiling, but its temperature was increasing with each step. It was then I noticed a couple with their little girl sitting on a bench on The Stray. When the man saw me he picked up the child, who was probably three or four years old and approached me saying that she had something she wanted to give me. She held out her hand and gifted me a small piece of gold paper which obviously held some sort of confection. I took it and thanked her very much. When I asked the chap what this was for he told me that it was Eid, which is the festival to celebrate the end of the month of Ramadan when Muslims are required to fast from dawn until dusk. Because of this it is customary to share their food. Having worked in Bradford for thirty years I knew all about this but, because it is a movable feast the Muslim calendar being based on lunar months, I hadn’t realised that it was taking place on that day. I wished them Eid Mubarak and, after a quick chat, continued on my way, the old blood pressure back to a manageable level. Fortunately the bus arrived this time and I managed to get a seat but, by the time it reached my normal stop it would have been touch and go.
This incident got me thinking that the evening could not get any better, but, not for the first time in my life, or even that day, I was mistaken. The concert I went to see was absolutely brilliant on all levels.
It was a performance by the Young Artists of the National Opera Studio of a series of scenes from Mozart operas as part of their yearly residency with Opera North. There were excerpts from The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan tutti, Don Giovanni, La finite giardiniera, Mitridate and Idomineo. I had seen a couple of them so I knew that I was in for an evening of familiar music, as opposed to the recent leaps into the dark. What I wasn’t aware of was that there would be seemingly the whole of the Orchestra of Opera North as well.
The newly reopened Howard Assembly Room showed off its versatility yet again with all of the front stalls seats removed and three low stages erected. This meant that the amount of space given over to the performers was probably greater than that occupied by the audience. As you would imagine, the sound was phenomenal with the musicians on top form but the fledgling singers were also a revelation.
Each of the pieces were performed as vignettes with the singers in ‘normal’ clothes, sitting on the seats on each side of the auditorium until it was their turn. On a couple of occasions they also appeared from the rear of the stalls. They did don the odd prop which was a great touch.
The concert was a wonderful mixture of ‘straight’ arias and some more light-hearted, if not down right hilarious moments. The brilliant thing about seeing these performances in such an intimate setting was that the gestures from the artists could be subtle making them much more effective than the exaggerated and flamboyant ones needed on a distant stage. The quality of the voices was also highlighted by being natural. It felt as though the singers, and musicians, were having as good a time as we members of the audience were. The conductor, Antony Hermus certainly was! I think the only ‘performer’ who put up a fairly lifeless showing was a chap who made his entrance by having a blanket, which had been spirited onto the stage at the interval, whipped off him to facilitate his convincing portrayal of a dead body.
As you will see from the photographs, the performers were too numerous to mention individually and so, because it would have been unfair to pick some out and ignore the others, I have added a link to the digital programme where you will see a full list along with their biographies. I suggest that you save this somewhere as I am certain you will come across them sometime in the future, they all look like Proms candidates.
In order to see what is coming up from Opera North and the Howard Assembly Room please go to https://www.operanorth.co.uk/
As if the performance was not brilliant enough, it ended in perfect time for me to stroll down to Vicar Lane and walk straight onto my bus home, thus saving me an hour’s wait for the next one. On the downside it meant that I didn’t have the excuse to down a pint or two in the Templar to pass the time. Hey ho, I did, however, have my gorgeous little cake in the gold paper to enjoy on the ride.
Feature image by Opera North. All other photographs by Stan Graham