Opera North offer slice of the Big Apple

STREET SCENELEEDS GRAND

Tuesday, 21st January 2020, 11:05 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 2:40 pm
Gillene Butterfield and Alex Banfield in Opera North's Street Scene by Kurt Weill;

Photo credit: © CLIVE BARDA/ArenaPAL
Gillene Butterfield and Alex Banfield in Opera North's Street Scene by Kurt Weill; Photo credit: © CLIVE BARDA/ArenaPAL

This piece by composer Kurt Weill is seldom revived these days, yet it played a big part in the development of the American musical - not least Guys and Dolls, which was packing them in at the Crucible recently.

And just like Frank Loesser's classic, this is a slice of life on the streets of New York in the middle of the last century.

That city is brilliantly evoked in Opera North's new production by designer Francis O'Connor's set, three storeys of a teeming tenement against which every human activity is played out, from first love and childbirth to adultery, jealousy and murder.

Consequently, this is a show with numerous characters, allowing members of Opera North's excellent chorus to step into the limelight. Principal amongst them is Gillene Butterfield, in excellent voice as she tries to choose between conflicting love interests while her mother (Giselle Allen) is suspected of having an adulterous affair.

Director Matthew Eberhardt pulls the various strands together seamlessly enough though some of the numbers outstay their welcome and the dance routine at the end of the first act seems to belong to another show.

Weill was a Jew who went to America to escape Nazi Germany and this Broadway hybrid is a slightly uneasy mix of European opera and American jazz and popular music.

The score is evocative and sensitively played by the orchestra under conductor James Holmes, though there are moments when they overpower the singers.

But there is usually a reason why shows like this are rarely revived. In this case - unlike Guys and Dolls - you don't come out humming the tunes.