Opera North - Arms and the Cow

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Norwich Theatre Royal


Norwich Theatre Royal

Opera North brilliantly concluded its Norwich week with satirical operetta. In fact, you could call it political panto with a villain who threat-ens touching young lovers, a cow promising something more tangible than Whittington's cat, and high-kicking unprincipled boys.

Echoing the opening of the famous Latin poem in praise of Roman imperialism, the title was a promise of mockery that was kept in 1934 when composer Kurt Weill and librettist Robert Vam-bery launched waves of laughter at the Nazis.

Now, this modern English version by Jeremy Sams and David Pountney updates a lot of the detail. The sobering thought, though, is they did not need to alter the main thrust of the attack.

A fairytale romance on an island utopia is wrecked when capitalism combines with corrupt politics, and sleazy sex is on the menu in the downtown cabaret show.

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The action moves fast. But thanks to Weill's clever and vivid music, every change of scene, switch in mood and personality makes instant impact. The short overture is a commentary on colonialism. Vividly orchestrated, the score is a witty tapestry of parodies of earlier composers.

Conductor James Holmes does not squander rich opportunities, and director David Pountney marshalls singers and dancers on inventively flexible sets – the work of Duncan Hayler, who also let himself go with the costumes.

The cast acts with conviction and commitment, and the chorus is splendid in both song and dance. The younger soloists, though, really ought to make more effort with their words.

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