Opera North - One Touch of Venus

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Norwich Theatre Royal


> Norwich Theatre Royal

A couple of bars of swirling music, the clatter of percussion and a touch of colour from the brass was enough to send the message.

Opera North was stepping westward, to Broadway and the world of the musical. As a story one touch of Venus is complicated enough, yes, even silly enough, to satisfy the most dyed-in-the-wool opera buff. But it is deep enough too. Borrowing from classical myth, it contrasts, in the most improbable way, the idea that love is what makes the world go round. It's a portrayal of the sort of things that really do make up everyday life if you happen to be a professor of Modern Art or else a barber in love with beauty.

It takes some imagination to keep up with the shifts of mood, of scene and of character. But it's worth the effort.

Tim Albery's staging helps, with the high-speed changes of set and delicious lighting effects, as well as a wardrobe of bright, original costumes. But the main credit must go to the composer on the exuberantly rich score. Kurt Weill is probably best known for the grim satire of The Threepenny Opera. Here he shows how cleverly he could change his skin. Everything came his way, from love songs to a barber shop quartet by way of some magnificent chorus numbers.

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Under conductor James Holmes, three fine singers carry the action. Ron Li-Paz is a fine bass, Loren Geeting is a sweet-toned tenor, and Karen Coker knows how to switch on her divine charms. Support comes from half a dozen other performers. They all know how to sing and create character at the same time. Ogden Nash and SJ Perelman wrote the words with many a neat wisecrack to add crispness to dialogues. What makes the whole entertainment is a sort of mixture of sentiment and cynicism, hard-boiled realism and boundless optimism in human emotions that seems to be part of the American character. This was a night that was different, and a particularly enjoyable one too.