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A Stravinsky and Purcell double bill at Opera North,
enjoyed by MIKE WHEELER


Stravinsky's choral ballet Les Noces wouldn't strike everyone as a natural companion-piece to Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas. But director/choreographer Aletta Collins' double bill for Opera North (Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 30 June 2007) brought the two together in a way that allowed them to contrast with and complement each other to superb effect.

The chorus and dancers wore the same costumes for both works -- the women in simple black dresses, the men in collarless pale blue-grey shirts and black trousers. (The instrumentalists in Les Noces were similarly dressed.)

In Les Noces the dancers occupied the front of the stage, with the singers, instrumentalists and conductor Nicholas Kok behind them, enclosed in a wall of vertical slats, with a series of human cut-out shapes projecting from them, spiralling round in a single wide loop. While effective in terms of the overall staging, placing the musicians so far back did mean that Stravinsky's brilliant score tended to lose some of its immediacy, incisively played and sung though it was.

Collins' choreography replaced the Russian peasant wedding rituals of the original scenario with an equally ritualised but more general confrontation and coming together of the sexes. And not just between the sexes -- at the start the women were involved in a no-holds-barred cat fight while the men indulged in the usual competitive macho stuff. Gradually couples paired off (a particularly touching moment involved one of them being blessed by the other dancers making dove-like movements with their hands). Eventually we were left with the principal couple spotlit as the concluding chimes of Stravinsky's score sounded behind them -- a spell-binding conclusion both musically and visually.

Over it all hung a large moon-like disc, and it was there again for Dido and Aeneas. The set had now become a double-step structure running across the stage -- a design as simple as it was effective.

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Copyright © 8 July 2007 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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