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Stravinsky variously celebrated Russian peasant ritual during the early years of the century, and it was not until the Bolshevik Revolution (1917), during which he lost all his family property, that his sympathies and musical interests began to turn away from Russian tradition. But he had begun Les Noces in 1912, before Le Sacre was first heard, and continued to work on these 'choreographic scenes with singing and music' as he described them, for ten years, during which time it had undergone many transformations, Stravinsky moulding texts from old folklore sources into a cantata, first with orchestra, finally arriving at its striking choral form with four pianos and five percussion players.

A scene from the Opera North production of 'Les Noces'. Photo © 2007 Bill Cooper
A scene from the Opera North production of 'Les Noces'. Photo © 2007 Bill Cooper

This was Opera North's first performance of the piece, and it was a triumphant première. The chorus was on stage, forming a scenic background to the breathtaking unbroken energy of the dance, six couples acting out the pre-wedding rituals of plaiting the bride's hair, preparing the groom, accompanying the bride on her departure holding her ikon and the bread and salt as offerings, and then the final 'red table' wedding feast and entertainment during which their nuptial bed is warmed in preparation for them.

A scene from the Opera North production of 'Les Noces'. Photo © 2007 Bill Cooper
A scene from the Opera North production of 'Les Noces'. Photo © 2007 Bill Cooper

Collins devised a constant flow of riveting activity that combines vigour with grace and yet still conjures the earthiness of Russian folk roots spectacularly. With the Opera North chorus, meeting Stravinsky's challenges superbly, were soloists soprano Gweneth-Ann Jeffers, mezzo Clarissa Meek, tenor John Graham-Hall and the two basses Paul Reeves and Anthony Cunningham.

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Copyright © 15 May 2007 Patric Standford, Wakefield UK

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