Tricky to write too much about this Opera North performance of Ruddigore at the Barbican Theatre. From row B of the (two-row) Balcony, which sits under a rather dramatic overhang so that one feels a little ‘packed away’, it is difficult to properly appreciate what gave every appearance of being a strong, spirited performance of a relative G&S rarity.
I can’t recall having been to the Barbican Theatre before, and certainly not for opera. From the orchestra’s first note, the acoustic struck me immediately as distinctly odd: incredibly dry and lacking in any warmth. This had the advantage of helping the performers to delineate the vocal trickery of which Gilbert is the supreme master. However, at such a distance as the rear balcony, by the time it reached us it was a rather cold, un-atmospheric result. There was a further barrier in that singers, inevitably, sang out to the people a long way below us, making for a rather variable volume and projection. It was a broadly unsatisfactory experience, all told, for a rather unreasonable £25.
That being said, the economics of these things mean a need to balance costs in order to make the touring as economic as it could be. I just think I shall try and see Opera North nearer to their home in future. I won’t be rushing back to the Barbican Theatre unless I can stump up the £70 (or equivalent) for a stalls seat.
The production was clever and energetic, leanly presenting the story and providing a really atmospheric Act 2 when the pictures came alive. Amongst the performers, Steven Page’s Sir Roderic Murgatroyd made a very strong impression; the younger characters were all vivaciously presented, Hal Cazalet’s Richard Dauntless, in particular, being a remarkable mover.
The piece was an interesting one; I wish I’d known it better before I went. It’s not as immediately appealing as the more ‘core’ G&S repertory, but it was clear that it would repay further delving. I found the character of Mad Margaret a bit tiring, and the ending is even flimsier and clunkier than the usual G&S operetta. Nonetheless, I thank Opera North for an introduction to a new (to me) G&S, and will continue to delve…
Incidentally, I was reminded that Opera North were my first introduction to opera: a performance of Orpheus in the Underworld at the (then newly-refurbished) Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, circa 1992. I loved it, and have had a soft spot for Orphée aux Enfer ever since. Bravo and thanks for that!