Opera North vs. the Devil: Autumn 2012 Season.

Kate Feld

The acclaimed opera company wrestles with mortality in a trio of new productions at The Lowry.

Faust a highlight of the Manchester theatre seasonFaust’s bargain with the devil, a seducer damned to rot in hell and a diva whose allure comes at a terrible price. Opera North’s Autumn 2012 season explores themes of life and death, youth and age in engaging productions of three compelling but very different operas: French masterpiece Gounod’s Faust, Mozart’s classic Don Giovanni and Janáček’s modern thriller The Makropulos Case all arrive at The Lowry this month after strong openings.

Eternal youth is the ultimate prize, but at what price? Perennial favourite Gounod’s Faust is updated for the internet age, with the action roving from a Wall Street skyscraper to the campaign trail of an evangelical American Presidential candidate, taking in modern moral dilemmas from plastic surgery to the abortion debate. Directors Rob Kearley and Ran Arthur Braun immerse the audience in this world with ingenious use of luxury ad-style film clips that amplify the drama unfolding on stage and in the score. Opera North’s first Faust in 20 years has won strong appreciation from the critics following its opening in Leeds, with The Independent praising conductor Stuart Stratford’s “robust and persuasive reading of the score,” and singling out James Crewswell’s  Méphistophélès as “a revelation: loose-limbed, witty, idiomatically French in style and tone from the first pretty lie to the last sulphurous laugh.”

Mozart's dark opera is a highlight of the 2012 Manchester theatre seasonThe titular arch seducer in Don Giovanni thinks only of his own pleasure, but the trail of broken hearts and compromised virtue he leaves behind will come back to haunt him. Mozart’s darkest opera is re-imagined by director Alessandro Talevi as a sensational vaudevillian puppet show, with an inventive staging and eclectic costuming heavy on the music-hall glitz. The casting is strong throughout, with Claire Wild’s Zerlina and Alastair Miles as Leporello garnering rave reviews.

Fresh from opening the 2012 Edinburgh International Festival comes Opera North’s new production of Janáček’s The Makropulos Case. For his first production with the company, director Tom Cairns gives us a clear-eyed interpretation of the story of diva Emilia Marty, whose youthful appearance belies a past that is gaining on her with every heartbeat. It’s a compelling exploration of the dangers of vanity that makes a strong argument for aging gracefully. After all, death isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.

Opera North Autumn 2012 Season: Faust, 7m, 6 and 9 November 2012, Don Giovanni 7pm, 7 and 10 November 2012, The Makropulos Case 7:30 pm  November 2012, The Lowry, Salford Quays, £15 – £63.50.

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Janacek's opera is a highlight of the 2012 Manchester theatre season

Words: Kate Feld. Images (from top:) Faust by Tristram Kenton; Don Giovanni by Robert Workman; The Makropulos Case by Donald Cooper; all courtesy of Opera North and The Lowry.

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