Heard the one about a viola choir?

No joke, though: Sheffield is to have a viola ensemble!

Adults only, its first get-together, or rehearsal is on Saturday, the 9th of December at Sharrow Performing Arts Space (S7 1BE) between 10am and noon.

The decision to set up such an ensemble was taken by Platform 4 composer Jenny Jackson, a self-confessed “enthusiastic viola player.”

“I’ve attended Robin Ireland’s viola workshops in the past in Ravenfield (near Rotherham) and, although I enjoyed them, the part of the day that most appealed to me was the ensemble playing”, she explains.

“I felt that there was enough support to try and start a viola ensemble which offered just that, but closer to home, here in Sheffield.

“I have always loved the sound of the viola and there is nothing quite like the sound of a viola ensemble: it’s sonorous, warm and strangely intense.”

She describes herself as a keen amateur with a great empathy for adult players of any instrument, especially late starters who are looking for chances to develop and exercise their newly found skills.

“This ensemble will offer the opportunity to gain experience in ensemble playing for players who may feel overwhelmed at the thought of orchestral playing.

“Also, for all players, the experience of playing more varied parts which is not always the case with orchestral and ensemble parts, including playing melodies as well as the filling accompaniment.”

Jenny believes the idea of a viola ensemble appeals to a “niche market” – “a very specific and small group of people that are viola players, which brings with it a very special camaraderie.

“We are often the butt of jokes (usually from violinists) and I think you have to be a particular type of person to want to play the viola. We are not necessarily show-offs – unlike those flashy violinists! – but we do like to be challenged and to feel appreciated.”

There is absolutely no danger of feeling under-appreciated in the Sheffield Viola Ensemble.

“It offers an opportunity for viola players who want to get together to play for pleasure in a friendly and supportive group,” says Jenny.

“All will be relaxed and informal with an ethos of helping each other and sharing technical and musical advice in order to achieve the best outcome.”

Repertoire must be extremely limited?

“We are supported by the British Viola Society which is providing us with a selection of music to begin with. The repertoire is unknown at the moment but will include Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite arranged for seven violas.

“We’ll work on a number of pieces each session in a variety of styles, including arrangements and original music for viola ensemble” – assuming some can be found!

“At this stage, it’s hard to know where it may lead. It may evolve to become a performing ensemble but, initially at least; it is limited to enjoying playing together for our own amusement.”

Further details and booking information can be found at www.jennyjacksoncomposer.com/sheffield-viola-ensemble



Julius Caesar in Egypt – review

This was a long late afternoon/ evening witnessing Julius Caesar’s misadventures in Egypt according to Handel and his librettist Nicola Francesco Haym in 1724.

English Touring Opera’s absolutely complete staging of Giulio Cesare without cuts began at 4:00pm and, with intervals, finally ended at 10:10pm – over six hours!

In its entirety, without breaks, it actually lasts just short of four hours!

It was given in two parts and marketed as two separate ‘shows’, The Death of Pompey and Cleopatra’s Needle, each with an interval, and a question of demand on your wallet!

The parts were realised by attaching scenes 1 to 8 of Act Two to Act One (part one) of the opera and prefacing Act Three with scenes 3 to 11 of Act Two (part two).

Vague reasoning came into play with the thought that maybe four hours was a tad too long for audience attention span – hence, the two parts – and the crazy notion of repeating the last chunk (around 45 minutes) of part one at the beginning of part two.

A totally unnecessary exercise, it meant a 90-minute break between the two parts when a cold wind and rain entertained themselves on the Buxton Opera House forecourt.

Did anyone do the sums beforehand?

Had the opera been performed in its normal three acts with two intervals the evening would have lasted around four hours, 30 minutes, not a needlessly overlong six hours and a bit!

Fortunately, there was exceptional music making, not least extraordinarily accomplished singing, to make it just about bearable and an updated-in-time production that for once does not offend the senses, courtesy of set/ costume designer Cordelia Chisholm.

ETO general director James Conway directs proceedings without undue interventional gratuity, beyond being ancient Egypt in resolutely set in Hanoverian times – circa 1724 (when the opera premiered) – in Britain when Protestant/ Catholic relations were uneasy.

Added production elements are pertinent, although the “subtly different perspectives” in the repeated scenes are neither nor there.

There was a bonus, though, in that we got to hear Soraya Mafi’s heart-rending account of Se pieta di me non senti again as Cleopatra, her silvery yet opulently toned voice being a constant delight throughout.

The virtuoso arias were fearlessly met with coloratura runs and other vocal ornamentations cleanly pitched and often expressively delivered.

Likewise, an equally magnificent Christopher Ainslie as Julius Caesar, his countertenor voice being more soprano than alto, not that it mattered in the least in the face of stunning vocal dexterity.

Vocally, there is not a weak link in the cast of eight: Kitty Whately makes an admirably telling impression as Sesto and Catherine Carby, not overdoing Cornelia’s mournful state, are the other principal Romans.

Benjamin Williamson, an alto countertenor so contrasts well with Ainslie, as a thoroughly despicable Tolomeo and Benjamin Bevan as his not quite as obnoxious lieutenant, Achilla, are the other principal Egyptians.

Jonathan Peter Kenny’s period instrument Old Street Band provides impeccable support and interesting to see the name of a vocal coach, Ann Murray DBE, no less.

The famed mezzo-soprano has certainly done her job here!


O No, it wasn’t. . !

Anyone going to the City Hall last Thursday anticipating a once in blue moon opportunity of hearing the virtually never heard, let alone never seen ballet music in Mozart’s opera Idomoneo will have been disappointed.

They may even have felt cheated.

Depending on tempi, around 25 minutes of music should have been heard. There was five minutes of the ballet – the regal Chaconne, preceded by the Overture to the opera.

It was bad enough that the brochure blurb for the Royal Northern Sinfonia concert effectively states that Idomeneo was a “ballet score” by Mozart with no reference to the opera in which the ‘ballet’ is little more than five dance episodes.

The City Hall is not to blame; the fault rests with the orchestra in furnishing misleading information.


Julius Caesar meets Cleopatra

English Touring Opera arrives in Buxton this coming weekend with the two staged offerings in the company’s autumn season, Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto and Rameau’s Dardanus.

As always, Sheffield is not on the itinerary as it is for ETO’s spring tour but, as in recent years, there will be a whistle-stop visit on the 5th of November to anchor a concert featuring a major choral work – Bach’s B minor Mass this year!

The autumn tour – usually with Baroque operas – has a particularly magnetic draw this time round in Handel’s opera, Julius Caesar in Egypt, usually known as just as Giulio Cesare – or Julius Caesar!

Not that it is merely a chance to see what many regard as the composer’s operatic masterpiece in this neck of the country; it also comes with a considerable bonus. It is being performed absolutely complete!

It rarely is and is usually cut as its four-hour running time is regarded as a deterrent. Indeed, ETO sees it that way and so is performing it in two parts with fabricated titles on Saturday (21st October) in Buxton: The Death of Pompey at 4pm and Cleopatra’s Needle at 8pm.

For some reason, part two begins with a repeat of the last five scenes of part one. It can only be assumed that this has something to with the two parts being performed 24 hours apart at some venues.

Handel wrote it in three acts over which, in brief, the following is enacted:

Pursuing his enemy Pompey, Caesar follows him to Egypt. Pompey’s wife, Cornelia, implores him not to kill him. He is about to grant her wish when Tolomeo, co-ruler of Egypt, presents him with the head of Pompey. Cornelia and Pompey’s son, Sesto, swear revenge.

Tolomeo’s sister and co-ruler, Cleopatra, wants to depose him. She sees a chance with Cornelia and Sesto’s quest for vengeance and, in disguise, seduces Caesar to get him on her side. Tolomeo (who lusts after Cornelia, by the way!) makes a failed attempt to slay Caesar.

Cleopatra hears reports that Caesar, by now smitten with her, has drowned. Tolomeo imprisons her. Far from being dead, Caesar appears and frees her. Sesto kills Tolomeo. Caesar proclaims Cleopatra as Queen of Egypt and returns to Rome.

Such is, or was Handel’s scenario. It is clear from production photos of the staging that the period is not 47 BC and, in all likelihood, the location not Egypt.

On paper, there is a super cast with South African countertenor Christopher Ainslie as Caesar and highly rated young Lancashire-born soprano Soraya Mafi as Cleopatra who get to sing all nine arias each that Handel penned for the characters.

Australian-born mezzo-soprano Catherine Carby is Cornelia, outstanding British mezzo Kitty Whately is Sesto (a trouser role and, yes, Kevin is her dad in case you didn’t know!) and Benjamin Williamson, another excellent countertenor, plays Tolomeo.

English Touring Opera’s period instrument orchestra, the Old Street Band is conducted as always by one-time countertenor Jonathan Peter Kenny and the performance is given in its original Italian with English surtitles.

The Rameau (20th October), reckoned a neglected masterpiece, is ETO’s first foray into French Baroque opera – Dardanus is the son of Jupiter who spends most the time trying to secure the hand of Iphise – and the production marks the British premiere of the 1744 version.


Schubert in Sheffield

Sheffield University’s new concert season, in effect, gets into motion this Thursday, the 5th of October, with a 45-minute rush hour concert given by PhD students at Firth Hall.

The city’s busiest concert season is again divided into four strands: Forged in Sheffield, featuring concerts by in-house forces; Sound Laboratory, which caters for contemporary music; Global Soundtracks, taking in an array of world music; and SongMakers.

This time round the latter provides the umbrella title for three Lieder concerts hinged on Schubert presented in collaboration with the annual Leeds Lieder festival and a performance of Bach’s B minor Mass in association with English Touring Opera on the 5th of November.

The season proper can be said to start on the 15th October with the first of three Schubert concerts under the heading ‘Schubert in Sheffield’. Every indication is that the increasingly acclaimed pianist Joseph Middleton is curating them and he begins in the realms of Goethe.

Of the 600-plus Lieder – or songs – that Schubert penned, 82 are to texts by Goethe, though not all different texts as the composer was prone to re-visiting a text, perhaps with a gap of years intervening, sometimes more than once. One song actually exists in six versions!

It’s one of his Mignon Lieder from Goethe’s multi-volume novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years), Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt – Only those who know longing.

Mignon is a female character in the Apprenticeship books of the philosophical saga who Wilhelm rescues on his travels the tomes, too, introducing a lugubrious blind Harper (a minstrel) who is given texts that Schubert also set.

Both are encountered at the initial concert: the three Gesänge des Harfners (Harper Songs), plus the earlier Harper song setting, Der Sänger, and four of the six Mignon Lieder, including Kennst du das Land – Know you the Land? and the fifth setting of Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt, as a duet!

After those, we meet Gretchen from Goethe’s Faust in three songs, including the well-known Gretchen am Spinnrade and slightly less familiar Der König in Thule.

Among 16 other song masterpieces in a Goethe–Schubert timeline are the two settings (seven years apart) of Wandrers Nachtlied, Rastlose Liebe, Der Erlkönig, Ganymed, Geheimes, Der Musensohn and Wilkommen und Abschied.

Two of the finest up and coming singers around, Slovenian soprano Nika Gorić and British baritone James Newby give voice to them – the latter was awarded the Richard Tauber Prize for the best interpretation of a Schubert Lied in 2015!

Details are scarce at present on Joseph Middleton’s second Schubert concert on the 21st of November with soprano Mary Bevan, no less, which deals with myths and legend. Haydn’s cantata Arianna a Naxos has filtered through, plus Italian songs by Schubert and Mozart.

Ditto: to a point, the third concert on the 13th of February with much-praised young baritone Ashley Riches, although two song cycles appear to be scheduled, Schubert’s Schwanengesang and Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant Beloved).

Details of the whole University Concert Season can be found at www.sheffield.ac.uk/concerts


Music in the Round – Autumn 2017

World of Strings, an ongoing exploration of stringed instruments from around the globe and the music played on them, is launched by Music in the Round in its autumn series of concerts in Sheffield.

It remains to be seen how the project develops, especially with the ever-increasing amount of what is termed ‘world music’ being presented exclusively at concerts.

All genres are featured – classical, jazz, folk, as well, and there is every indication that fusion will be an element. Also, that string instruments will not have the stage entirely to themselves.

The second of the first two ‘WoS’ concerts in the season (18th November) from Sheffield’s acclaimed global music collective, Rafiki Jazz, provides clear evidence of this with the inclusion of Caribbean steelpans and kawala flutes among other exoticisms.

More conventional instruments, although perhaps not among percussion items, are heard 24 hours earlier at the star-studded opening concert (17th November) of the World of Strings project, ‘Strad in Rio’.

Other than percussion, violin, cello and guitar to be precise, including the world-renowned Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova and a celebrated cellist who is no stranger to Sheffield having been born here, Matthew Barley, who happens to be ‘Mr Mullova’.

Paul Clarvis is the distinguished percussionist and, while unable to speak for João Luis Nogueira Pinto, there is no reason to doubt the Brazilian guitarist’s credentials in this company, least of all as the music (of the popular variety) is from his country.

Another stellar visitor – in fact, a long time returnee! – in the season is pianist Imogen Cooper (14th October) with a programme of Beethoven, including Sonata No 31, Haydn and Thomas Adès.

A much quicker returnee is the Van Kuijk Quartet (28th October) with Debussy, Mendelssohn: Op 44 No 2, and Akira Nishimura: String Quartet No 2 – Pulse of the Lights, at Upper Chapel.

At the same venue, the Marmen Quartet ends it tenure (21st October) on Music in the Round’s ‘Bridge Quartet’ scheme with Mozart, Haydn and Brahms.

The Leonore Piano Trio continues its survey of the complete violin sonatas, cello sonatas and piano trios by Beethoven (11th November) and the trio’s pianist, Tim Horton, launches in to another cycle, Schubert’s major piano sonatas over four concerts (2nd December).

All three musicians will be on duty when Ensemble 360 gets the season underway on the 9th of October with a Schubert string quartet: No 11, Berio: one his 14 solo Sequenzas, Mahler and Korngold: Piano Quintet.

Two further ensemble concerts take in Coleridge-Taylor’s Clarinet Quintet, Fauré’s Piano Quintet No 1 and the first performance of a work, commissioned by Royal Philharmonic Society, by Patrick Brennan (8th November).

The other (29th November), features more Berio – another Sequenza, Beethoven, Mozart and Dohnányi’s jolly Sextet for violin, viola, cello, horn, clarinet and piano.

There are also three attractively planned Thursday lunchtime concerts at Upper Chapel from individual ensemble members.

Roderick Williams hosts a seasonal concert at Upper Chapel (16th December), which also involves Sheffield Young Singers and Sheffield-born mezzo-soprano Anna Harvey of ever-increasing note.

For jazz aficionados, the Jason Rebello Trio (1st December), in association with Sheffield Jazz, is a must and all the concerts take place in the Crucible Studio, except as noted.

Full details of the season can be found at www.musicintheround.co.uk


2017/ 18 Sheffield International Concert Season – 1

Marche Écossaise; Marche écossaise sur un theme populaire to give it its full title, is not the first piece of music you would think of if asked to name a work by Debussy.

In fact, it has what can be called quiet popularity, although in all likelihood has never been heard in Sheffield before, at least the orchestral version.

On the 29th of September, ‘Scottish March on a Popular Theme’ (circa, seven minutes) is the first work heard when the 2017/ 18 Sheffield International Concert Season opens at the City Hall.

Debussy was on the breadline in 1891 so when a Scottish general commissioned him to write a march based on traditional melody of the Ross clan he readily agreed.

A four-handed piano piece in its original form, the much more solvent composer orchestrated it in 1908.

Nothing remotely unfamiliar about the work that follows, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 with Alexander Gavrylyuk as soloist, before Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé end proceedings with Stravinsky’s Firebird score.

Scotland and ballet figure in the following concert (12th October) from the Royal Northern Sinfonia under the baton of distinguished Baroque specialist Paul McCreesh.

The nearest he gets to the period, though, is the ensuing Classical era: Haydn’s Cello Concerto No 1 with the highly thought of Guy Johnston and Mozart, the rarely heard ballet music from his opera Idomeneo – not ballet as the brochure blurb can be construed as suggesting!

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 3, the Scottish, which he actually christened Scotch, posterity changing it, as it has nothing to do with Scotland’s famed alcoholic distilment, completes the evening.

We are definitely in the realms of ballet: an unspecified suite from Prokofiev’s Cinderella and Ravel’s Daphis et Chloé Suite No 2, when the Brussels Philharmonic pays a visit (11th November), the orchestra having had three previous names since its formation in 1935.

Preceding them is another ‘stranger’, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Passchendaele, a multi-textured First World War commemorative piece premiered in 2014, followed by the regularly encountered (to say the least!) Violin Concerto No 1 by Bruch – the famous one!

The orchestra’s principal conductor Stéphane Denève is the podium and the soloist in Bruch, Nikolaj Znaider.

The Hallé has a further concert before the end of the year (8th December) and there is yet more unfamiliarity among the offerings, at least as far as Sheffield concert audiences are concerned: Respighi’s The Fountains of Rome.

Celebrated Italian maestro Carlo Rizzi is the conductor and follows it with something everyone knows by another fellow countryman, Rossini’s William Tell Overture, before moving on to Rachmaninov’s monumentally lush Symphony No 2.

The popular annual Christmas Concert with the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus and, yet again, the famous Black Dyke Band, takes place the following week (16th December).

Concerts in the rest of season – eight of them – will be expounded on nearer the time it recommences in the New Year.

Tasters include, Delius: Paris: The Song of a Great City; Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No 1; Mussorgsky/ Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition. The Hallé/ Sir Mark Elder, Alisa Weilerstein: cello, on the 19th of January.

Khachaturian: Masquerade Suite; Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No 1; Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 4. Russian State Philharmonic Orchestra/ Valery Polyansky, Alexander Sitkovetsky: violin, on the 3rd of March.

Debussy: Children’s Corner; Schumann: Piano Concerto; Stravinsky: Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1947); Debussy: La Mer. City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/ Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla, Rudolf Buchbinder: piano, on the 16th of March.

Mahler: Symphony No 2 ‘Resurrection’. Bruckner Orchester Linz/ Markus Poschner, Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, on the 5th of May.


Lucio Silla – review

Mozart’s Lucio Silla, Buxton International Festival’s third operatic offering this year in a co-production with the renowned period instrument orchestra, The English Concert, is a visual mess!

Redemption can be found in the strong music values, although even here it can sound a little thin at times. Not even Mozart could write so many arias to cram into just over 150 minutes each with the same high degree of quality.

For a predominantly young cast, the singing is extremely accomplished and delivered with considerable confidence no matter how technically difficult. Where two of the singers are concerned, the assurance is extraordinary!

The two en travesti (in trouser roles) as it happens, originally written for castrati: the exiled Lucio Cinna – Czech soprano Karolina Plickovcá, and his friend Cecilio – New Zealand soprano Madeleine Pierard, Buxton’s Louise in the concert performance of Charpentier’s opera two years ago.

Both act and look uncannily like men (one notch at least for the production team) and have superbly sound vocal techniques. Coloratura runs are fearlessly and faultlessly delivered as is all they do is and always with firm vocal line.

Rebecca Bottone, as Cecilio’s beloved Giunia, took a while to entirely warm up but when she did there was next to nothing to carp about – on the contrary! In the other, less demanding female role of Celia, Lucio Silla’s sister, Fflur Wyn sings with great vocal beauty and no apparent embarrassment over her weird costuming.

Silla himself is in the more than capable dramatic and vocal hands of Joshua Ellicot, a tenor who usually livens things when he appears, but not to the lengths of inadvertently causing inappropriate loud audience laughter at the opera’s dénouement on the opening night.

Leading us back to American stage director Harry Silverstein’s production and a taste of its many shortcomings!

Opera seria, what Lucio Silla is, is not easy to stage for contemporary audiences.

Dramatically, it is primarily static and affected so a point of focus is needed for involvement and an understanding of what’s happening – it just isn’t there!

Silverstein’s appears not to know what to do with the characters. They stand around like spare parts as one their number sings a long aria, or engages in a lengthy stretch of recititative.

How many times do we see a character singing an aria apparently begin to exit the stage before turning back and continuing it? Sometimes more than once! Or the number of times someone sitting on the lower steps of a metal staircase?

Throughout, the boring-on-the eye set consists of three giant screens of scaffolding construction, initially draped in plastic gaudy, abstract coloured plastic sheeting.

On the first night, one peeled off by a third of its length as one character sang O ciel (Oh, heavens)! It came down completely, as did the other two, when Silla tore them down in a fit of pique!

Costuming is utterly bizarre. The military look as if they strayed from Ivor Novello’s Ruritania. The chorus sports motley clothing that could have come from a charity shop.

Celia wears what looks like party dresses. Cinna looks like a beau from Mozart’s time, while a shabby Cecilio wears a hoodie top and turned up jeans.


Albert Herring – review

Buxton International Festival’s second opera mounted under its own steam, Britten’s Albert Herring, can be summed a little more briefly than Verdi’s Macbeth.

It is little short of magnificent and entirely merited the exuberant reception at the end!

The whole cast is thoroughly engaging and turn in a wonderful ensemble performance with everyone playing off each other, especially the six-member May-Day Festival Committee with some highly experienced singers in its number.

Yvonne Howard, in excellent voice, is a suitably formidable Lady Billows and Lucy Schaufer beautifully characterises her put-on minion Florence Pike, at the same time assuming petty importance in imitation of her redoubtable ladyship.

The whole committee of worthies is vividly etched: Mary Hegarty’s genteelly dizzy schoolmarm Miss Wordsworth; Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts’ puffed up mayor, Mr Upfold; Nick Merryweather’s cardboard cut-out vicar Mr Gedge, skilfully given an indefinable different edge; and John Molloy’s stiff-necked Superintendent Budd – impressive bass voice, too!

Also vocally impressive is Morgan Pearse as Sid, a well-focussed light baritone with an easy stage manner and, as his village bombshell girlfriend Nancy, Kathryn Rudge simply uses her gorgeous mezzo-soprano voice to great effect.

Heather Shipp cuts crest-fallen, almost tragic figure as Mrs Herring when Albert finally wakes up and turns on her, while as the greengrocer’s lad himself, Bradley Smith could hardly be more of a simpleton, bespectacled, nervously shy and insecure.

Leading us to his transformation and the only really contentious aspect of the production, which is otherwise left firmly in the post-war 1940s by director Francis Matthews.

A Carousel-like dream ballet is added to the instrumental interlude when Albert returns home after his crowning and a ‘Stranger’ (a silent Simeon John-Wake), who pops up throughout, presents himself and begins gyrating suggestively, which Albert eventually starts emulating.

Sexually suggestive, it leads to the implication that Matthews perhaps sees (and stresses) something in the dubious theory of a homosexual subtext seen by some in the opera, which is held up as a sort of ‘coming out’ ritual.

On a more pertinent note, the Northern Chamber Orchestra (effectively its principals) and conductor Justin Doyle were alert to every nuance of Britten’s complex, constantly shifting score.


Macbeth – review

Enthusiastic applause greeted the final curtain of this rare staging in its original version of Verdi’s opera as part of this year’s Buxton International Festival, as it is now known.

Almost certainly generated by the audience having experienced a highly dramatic, often compelling performance, it also revealed that the 1865 version (the one usually heard) is not as overwhelmingly superior as it is held up to be.

Verdi’s first thoughts in 1847 may appear a little rough and ready by comparison but they were more direct and incisive. Only with Lady Macbeth’s act two aria La luce langue can the revised version be said to truly score – not that the one it replaced is exactly a disaster!

Distinguished stage director Elijah Moshinsky lets Verdi tell the story with little interference in a minimalist, darkly lit production, heightening the dangers lurking round every corner.

A miscalculation is the dead Lady Macbeth’s body being wheeled on for Macbeth to grieve over before Birnam Woods ‘walk’, suggesting the aria he sings over the corpse is associated with it instead of him feeling sorry for himself before being told she was dead, offstage!

A much more clever and successful idea is the witches engaging in a Tiller Girl dance routine across the front of the stage at the start of act three, although having the chorus of refugees at the same location singing seated in a line at act four’s outset made little dramatic sense.

What definitely does, though, are both instances of video pyrotechnic projection; and having Malcolm in full battle regalia singing from a balcony box high up in the Opera House auditorium was a production whim that came off.

Music values are generally high, although a question mark surfaces over Kate Ladner’s totally committed Lady Macbeth. Vocally, she gives it her all and excitingly shirks nothing in the role’s high register work, but there is not a lot of vocal body supporting it below.

It suggested the part is not for her, at least at this stage in her career if she wants it to continue and not risk burn out.

Stephen Gadd’s no less committed Macbeth is sturdily and tirelessly sung while capturing the character’s uncertainty over his murderous actions, but his stage presence is not particularly strong in creating the all-conquering general he is supposed to be.

Young Moldovan bass Oleg Tsibulko makes a highly favourable impression for the future as Banquo and South Korean tenor Jung Soo Yun turns in an extremely well sung, open-throated account of Macduff’s act four aria, but tends to look a trifle lost dramatically much of time.

First night nerves, perhaps? – which may also have something to do with the afflictions suffered every so often by the usually ultra-reliable augmented Northern Chamber Orchestra under the entirely idiomatic baton of Stephen Barlow.

No such problems for superb Festival Chorus, from which tenor Luke Sinclair has a night off to make a splendid Malcolm in his ‘bird nest’!