Opera North goes east for a week

TONY COOPER One of the highlights of Opera North's week (March 30 to April 2) is a performance of Kurt Weill's Broadway musical One Touch of Venus – the first full-scale British staging of this marvellous work.


One of the highlights of Opera North's week (March 30 to April 2) is a performance of Kurt Weill's Broadway musical One Touch of Venus – the first full-scale British staging of this marvellous work.

The company has been a champion of musical theatre since the Eighties and has staged some tremendously successful productions. These include Showboat – which transferred to the London Palladium – Sweeney Todd and Paradise Moscow. One Touch of Venus (March 31) follows the genre of these successes.

Opera North's head of music, James Holmes – a world authority of the music of Kurt Weill – is the conductor. Weill wrote such immortal numbers as Mack the Knife and September Song.

Holmes joins a production team headed by award-winning director Tim Albery, with show sets by Antony McDonald and the superb 1940s-style costumes by Emma Ryott.

The cast includes Los Angeles-born Loren Geeting, who won the BBC Radio 2's Voice of Musical Theatre Award. He played Boris in Opera North's 2001 production of Paradise Moscow, which was seen at Sadler's Wells in London.

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He plays the timid barber Rodney Hatch, who has the dreary job of shaving multi-millionaire Whitelaw Savory every day.

Savory has just acquired a priceless 3000-year-old statue of Venus! But the barber has other feelings about it and considers his fiancée, Gloria Kramer, much more attractive.

To test his assumption he takes the outstretched hand of Venus and is lost in his thoughts about his wonderful and loving fiancée. He slips the wedding ring he has just purchased over the statue's finger and in a shot it comes to life.

Perplexed and no longer sure of her charm, the goddess of love ventures out among the people in a shopping mall and in the ballet that follows – Forty Minutes for Lunch – she arranges a romance between a young couple to prove that love is far from dead.

Three fellow Americans who know a lot about Broadway join Geeting in this critically-acclaimed production. All of them have vast experience in musical theatre: Karen Coker (Venus), Ron Li-Paz (Savory) and Christianne Tisdale as Molly, Savory's spiky secretary.

The original production of Venus ran for 567 performances at its premiere on Broadway in 1943, and was made into a film with Ava Gardner as Venus.

The music is reminiscent of Cole Porter but with an effective twist of Weill, set to smart, witty lyrics of the poet Ogden Nash and includes Speak Low, I'm a Stranger Here and West Wind. The book is by the American humourist SJ Perelman, whose varied output includes screenplays for the Marx Brothers.

There are also two full dance numbers choreographed by William Tuckett.

One of the other works travelling with Opera North on this tour – Giovanni (March 30 to April 2) – will be seen in a new production conducted by Richard Farnes. And Olivia Fuchs is returning to the company following her big success with Dvorak's Rusalka in 2003 to direct.

She sets the production about the fearless sexual predator during the Spanish Civil War referencing freedom fighters, fascism, Granada's Alhambra and halls of mirrors.

Roderick Williams and Iain Paton – fresh from Tim Albery's new production of Cosi fan Tutte – star as the licentious Don Giovanni and the faithful Don Ottavio.

Sopranos Giselle Allen and Susannah Glanville also return to Opera North as Donna Elvira, a former lover of Giovanni and Donna Anna, who is betrothed to Ottavio.

The final opera in their repertoire, The Thieving Magpie (Friday April 1) – to my knowledge, never seen in Norwich – is a revival by Nik Ashton of Martin Duncan's 1990 production.

David Parry, who has recorded it for Chandos, conducts, while costumes and set are by Sue Blane, lighting design by Colin Smith and translation by Jeremy Sams.

The piece leads from a tender romance to the foot of the scaffold in which laughter and passion combine in music that is both witty and sensitive as only Rossini can be.

The scenario centres on Ninetta, a servant girl, who is loved by a soldier and lusted after by the local mayor. But after having spurned the mayor's advances she is falsely accused of theft and condemned to death.

Meanwhile, the magpie continues to line its nest with the silver, fuelling accusations and keeping up the suspense.

Soprano Mary Hegarty makes a welcome return to Opera North to sing the title role while tenor Ashley Catling plays her soldier boyfriend Gianetto.

His parents Lucia and Fabrizio are sung by mezzo-soprano Claire Williams and Australian-born Dean Robinson. Jonathan Best sings Fernando – Ninetta's father – and Robert Poulton takes the role of the lecherous mayor.

All three productions will be sung in English. Tickets range from £5 to £43.

Discounts available – inquire at the box office 01603 630000