Judge on the menu
PATRIC STANDFORD attends the first night
of Opera North's revival production
of Sondheim's 'Sweeney Todd'
in Leeds Grand Theatre, UK on 25 April 2002
'Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd; his skin was pale and his eye was odd;
he shaved the faces of gentlemen who never thereafter were heard of again'.
From the first magnificently awesome chords of the organ at its opening,
the turning of the great industrial wheel, and the hazy light that gradually
illuminates the fearful faces of squalid early 19th century London street-dwellers,
it is clear that Stephen Sondheim's musical tale of Fleet Street's Demon
Barber will be a sinister and enthralling entertainment. It is a work of
operatic power and proportion, with its underlying worldly cynicism relieved
by vigorous wit and occasional melodrama. The music, fragments of which
cleave to the memory because the words make them do so, is simple and direct,
never trespassing beyond its clear functional support. We meet with the
Chorus of Opera North at the opening, and they make a dazzling sound.
The prize piece is, of course, the song that ends the first Act, a brilliant
banter between Mrs Lovett, as she begins to realise the business potential
in having a neat executioner above her bakery 'with the price of meat what
it is', and the demon barber's increasing enthusiasm for a task that combines
utility with revenge. They speculate on the way various professions would
create subtle distinctions in the flavour of the pies. ('Have a little priest
... it's too good at least ... they don't commit sins of the flesh, so it's
pretty fresh ... Awful lot of fat ... only where it sat ...). As they move
to the close of this increasingly joyful and gruesome duet, Todd cries,
with a pernicious significance the reason for which you must find out yourselves,
'I'll come again when you have Judge on the menu'.
Copyright © 16 May 2002
Patric Standford, Wakefield, UK
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