REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on English Touring Opera’s La Bohème and The Golden Cockerel, York Theatre Royal

Francesca Chiejina as Mimi and Luciano Botelho as Rodolfo in English Touring Opera’s La Bohème

English Touring Opera, La Bohème, April 8; The Golden Cockerel, April 9, at York Theatre Royal

IT was good to have English Touring Opera back in town. Don’t take my word for it. The Theatre Royal had to open its upper reaches to accommodate the throngs gratefully gathered for professional opera for the first time since Covid struck.

York Opera had led the way in fine style last autumn; ETO followed suit, with a potboiler and an exotic rarity.

Puccini’s La Bohème inevitably relies for its success on the lovers at its heart. The company had cast its net wide before settling on Brazilian tenor Luciano Botelho for the lovelorn Bohemian Rodolfo, casting Nigerian-American soprano Francesca Chiejina as his Mimì.

On this occasion, both began diffidently: it was partly a reflection of the amatory sheepishness of their characters, but also a result of under-projection. Botelho’s tenor disappeared into his head the higher up the range he went, while Chiejina took a while to release the tension in her jaw, which diminished her projection. She left the difficult final note of Act 1 far too early, a sure sign of lacking confidence.

Thereafter both improved and their Act 3 duet by the customs barrier found them much more relaxed and thus less self-conscious.

James Conway’s thoughtful production, revived here by Christopher Moon-Little, was based around deliberately simplistic designs by Florence de Maré (revived by Neil Irish). A large reflective glass panel leaned in on the bohemians’ attic, with the regulation stove in one corner and unusual seating provided by the basket of a hot-air balloon whose sandbags were cushions. Set on tea-chests, these became pillows for Mimì’s deathbed.

These bourgeois boys were well-clothed, affirmation that they would be returning to provincial ways once their salad days were done. In this way, set and production were complementary.

Michel de Souza’s warm baritone made a sympathetic Marcello, who was never going to be fooled by the glamour of Jenny Stafford’s Musetta; she in turn was more hard-edged than flirtatious.

Trevor Eliot Bowes’ pensive Colline and Themba Mvula’s lively Schaunard rounded out the well-balanced bohemians. Chorus members filled the cameo roles very competently and children from the York Music Hub Choir sang pleasingly – rather than the usual shouting – as Parpignol’s acolytes (he was ‘Pa’Guignol’, a Punch-and-Judy man).

Iwan Davies – not the main conductor for the run – stood in with distinction, his clear beat shaping accompaniment that always put the singers’ needs first. His orchestra responded with keen rhythms.

The chorus was in good heart at Café Momus, maintaining discipline amongst the hi-jinks. Despite the lack of outstanding soloists, this was a good, solid Bohème, well worth catching at Gala Theatre, Durham, on May 9 if you missed it this time in York.

Paula Sides as the exotic Queen of Shemakha in English Touring Opera’s The Golden Cockerel

Rimsky-Korsakov was one of the all-time great orchestrators and The Golden Cockerel, his last opera and the only one staged regularly outside Russia, offers plenty of evidence of this. Touring has made a reduced adaptation necessary, which Iain Farrington has handily provided.

It lacked some of the exoticism that a larger orchestra might have offered but kept the vital woodwinds very busy and retained enough glockenspiel glitter for the astrologer’s motif. Gerry Cornelius conducted it lovingly while keeping a good balance between stage and pit.

James Conway’s new production was well-timed. The fairy-tale libretto, based on a Pushkin poem, was sung here in a neatly rhyming translation by Antal Dorati and James Gibson. It tells of half-witted King Dodon’s fear that his country is about to be invaded.

When the work was selected it can hardly have crossed the company’s mind that a terrible real-life sequel would actually ensue. The analogy cannot be pushed too hard, but the exotic Queen of Shemakha – ‘Mother Russia’ it was suggested to me in the interval – does all she can to seduce Dodon and his court, opposed only by the ineffectual General Polkan.

The Astrologer who frames the action reveals at its close that only he and the Queen are real characters, “all the rest were dream, delusion…”. In fact, the opera is better seen as parodying naive techniques in Russian opera and to that extent anticipates Stravinsky’s Petrushka.

Conway did well to stick to the score and not introduce an excess of up-to-date connotations, other than dressing the royal housekeeper Amelka and three of her minions in military khaki. In the designs by Neil Irish, the general wore a Kaiser-style helmet, which implied a pre-First World War setting. The cockerel of the title was mainly perched on a look-out tower, so as to warn of impending invasion. She was appealingly drawn by the nimble Alys Mererid Roberts.

Grant Doyle gave an amusingly doddery Dodon, struggling to hold on to power, with his sons – who accidentally bump each other off in battle – portrayed as Tweedledum and Tweedledee by Thomas Elwin and Jerome Knox.

Amy J Payne was a regular martinet as Amelka, Edward Hawkins made a nicely bumbling Polkan, and Robert Lewis coped valiantly with the ultra-high tenor role of Astrologer, more than faintly reminiscent of Rasputin.

That left the bulk of the serious singing, in Acts 2 and 3, to Paula Sides as the Queen. Her coloratura, deliberately parodistic, hit the spot, and her somewhat shrill tone suited the orientalism of Rimsky’s score.

It was just as well we had English side-titles, as diction was generally less than ideal. The chorus played a full part in keeping the comedy vital, crawling out from under the curtain for their finale.

It has been 37 years since this work was given in Yorkshire, by Opera North, so unless you are young you may want to head to Durham on May 10.                                         

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Bach’s St John Passion, English Touring Opera, York Theatre Royal, April 6

Luci Briginshaw: “Laudably managed to infuse musicality into her arias despite the speedy tempos”

WHEN Bach’s St John Passion is given during Lent, one expects an evening of concentration on Christianity’s central event, enhanced by the composer’s incomparable music.

Gratitude that English Touring Opera had scheduled this music at all during its spring tour – the first Bach passion here since the pandemic – quickly dissolved in the reality of what was involved in this ‘semi-staging’, directed by James Conway.

The theatre’s stage had been cleared to the back wall, which allowed York Theatre Royal Choir, augmented by the Chapter House Youth Choir, to fill the bleachers at the back, with 15 members of the Old Street Band spread across the stage in front of them, leaving soloists and conductor nearest the audience.

It did not matter that this was a hybrid performance, with choruses and arias sung in German and the chorales sung in English, in new translations specially commissioned from such as the former Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the former Dean of Exeter, Dr Jonathan Draper. Some of their paraphrases were colourful.

What disfigured this performance were the antics of the conductor, Jonathan Peter Kenny. His flamboyant, grandiose gestures might be generously described as bordering on the balletic but were rarely less than manic. He was clearly determined that the evening was about him and him only.

Unwilling to be patronised by such histrionics, choir and orchestra paid him scant attention. The audience did not have that choice and the evening was best experienced with eyes closed. Even then, Kenny’s adrenaline regularly ran out of control so that tempos were mostly on the dangerous side of rapid.

When the ‘Kreuzige’ (Crucify) chorus, for example, is delivered prestissimo, it loses most of its impact, the singers given no time to crunch the ‘Kr’ or hiss the ‘z’ in the word ‘Kreuzige’ as Bach intended. Under this assault, the choirs survived remarkably well, with the Chapter House Youth providing an occasional semi-chorus in chorales. Any raggedness was inflicted from outside.

The Evangelist duties were mainly shared between Richard Dowling and Thomas Elwin, both highly competent, although cantering through their narratives with little regard to nuance. Peter’s weeping, for example, was cursory rather than deeply felt.

Occasionally the soprano Luci Briginshaw took on some of the recitative but whenever Jesus was in focus – at his death, for example – his character was entrusted to countertenor Tim Morgan. It was a directorial fancy and not altogether persuasive, but pardonable. Briginshaw laudably managed to infuse some musicality into her arias despite the speedy tempos.

Christus himself was sung rather matter-of-factly by Edward Hawkins, although he was not given much space to develop gravitas and he sang one aria with aplomb. By far the best German, and hence also the best characterisation, came from Bradley Travis, who gave a suitably weak-kneed Peter as well as a forthright Pilate.

There was a good deal of wandering around from the soloists, all of whom were dressed in everyday rig, accompanied by a fair amount of hugging and even hand-holding. None of it amounted to much dramatically.

The orchestra kept its cool remarkably, and duets from flutes and oboes were eloquent, with some lovely theorbo during the evening serenade in the garden and a cellist who doubled adeptly on gamba.

The musical benefits seemed to have been achieved despite, rather than because of, the conductor. If he is to be used again by this company, he must be firmly tethered in the pit where he is largely out of sight of the paying public. What he did at this performance was outrageous and totally out of keeping with the seriousness of the setting.

Review by Martin Dreyer

English Touring Opera to perform Puccini’s La Boheme and Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel at York Theatre Royal

Tragic love story: English Touring Opera in La Boheme

ENGLISH Touring Opera’s residency at York Theatre Royal this week is underway.

Last night, ETO artistic director James Conway combined professional soloists and baroque specialists The Old Street Band with singers from York choirs in an inspiring staging of St John Passion that highlighted the sharp storytelling and intense vision of hope in Bach’s oratorio.

Among the choirs taking art was the York Theatre Royal Choir, singing on home turf in the 7.30pm performance.

Tomorrow (8/4/2022), ETO presents La Bohème, Giacomo Puccini’s opera about a poet who falls in love with a consumptive seamstress. In a story of young love that starts on a festive, snowy Christmas Eve night in a Parisian garret, the lovers draw close but poverty forces them apart. 

Conway describes this cultural touchstone throughout the world as “a poignant memory in music of love and loss – like a shard of mirror in which one sees one’s youth”.

ETO’s return to York Theatre Royal concludes with a lively new production of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s comic Russian fantasy The Golden Cockerel on Saturday.

Paula Sides’s Queen of Shemakha in English Touring Opera’s The Golden Cockerel

This send-up of corruption and sloth in government holds up a mirror to the last days of the Romanovs. “Despite its political edge, which meant it fell foul of the Tsarist censors, the music is daringly sensual and erotic at points,” says Conway of the first Rimsky-Korsakov work to be produced and toured by ETO. “For many, it’s an undiscovered joy of an opera.”

“Fantasy, mischief and musical delight combine in the composer’s final and favourite opera, based on a poem by Alexander Pushkin. The score is bursting with the exotic orchestrations that made Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite Scheherezade so popular.”

ETO’s new music director, Gerry Cornelius, conducts Conway’s production, starring baritone Grant Doyle (last with ETO for Verdi’s Macbeth in 2019) as the indolent Emperor Dodon and soprano Paula Sides as the seductive Queen of Shemakha.

In the cast too are Edward Hawkins, Amy J Payne, Robert Lewis, Luci Briginshaw and Alys Mererid Roberts in the title role.

Tickets for the 7.30pm performances are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Martin Dreyer will be reviewing all three performances for CharlesHutchPress.

More Things To Do in and around York, where studios are opening up for spring inspection. List No. 76, from The Press

Kimbal Bumstead: one of 30 new participants in York Open Studios

NOW is the chance to go around the houses, the studios and workshops too, as recommended by Charles Hutchinson on his art beat.

Art event of the week and next week too: York Open Studios, today and tomorrow; April 9 and 10, 10am to 5pm

AFTER 2021’s temporary move to July, York Open Studios returns to its regular spring slot, promising its biggest event ever with more than 150 artists and makers in 100-plus workshops, home and garden studios and other creative premises.

Thirty new participants have been selected by the event organisers. As ever, York Open Studios offers the chance to talk to artists, look around where they work and buy works.

Artists’ work encompasses painting and print, illustration, drawing and mixed media, ceramics, glass and sculpture, jewellery, textiles, photography and installation art. Check out the artists’ directory listings and the locations map at yorkopenstudios.co.uk or pick up a booklet around York.

Caius Lee: Pianist for York Musical Society’s Rossini concert

Classical concert of the week: York Musical Society, Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, St Peter’s School Memorial Hall, York, tonight, 7.30pm

DAVID Pipe conducts York Musical Society in a performance of Gioachino Rossini’s last major work, Petite Messe Solennelle, composed when his friend Countess Louise Pillet-Will commissioned a solemn mass for the consecration of a private chapel in March 1864.

After Rossini deemed it to be a ‘poor little mass’, the word ‘little’ (petite) has become attached to the title, even though the work is neither little nor particularly solemn. Instead, the music ranges from hushed intensity to boisterous high spirits.

Caius Lee, piano, Valerie Barr, accordion, Katie Wood, soprano, Emily Hodkinson, mezzo-soprano, Ed Lambert, tenor, and Stuart O’Hara, bass, perform it tonight. Box office: eventbrite.co.uk/e/rossini-petite-messe-solennelle.

Bingham String Quartet: Programme of Beethoven, Schnittke, LeFanu and Tippett works

Late news: York Late Music, Stuart O’Hara and Ionna Koullepou, 1pm today; Bingham String Quartet, 7.30pm tonight, St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, York

BASS Stuart O’Hara and pianist Ionna Koullepou play a lunchtime programme of no fewer than eight new settings of York and regional poets’ works by York composers.

In the evening, the Bingham String Quartet perform Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat major, Schnittke’s String Quartet No 3, York composer Nicola LeFanu’s String Quartet No 2 and Tippett’s String Quartet No 2. Box office: latemusic.org or on the door.

The poster for York Blues Festival 2022

A dose of the blues: York Blues Festival 2022, The Crescent, York, today, bands from 1pm to 11pm

YORK Blues Festival returns for a third celebration at The Crescent community venue after two previous sell-outs. On the bill will be Tim Green Band; Dust Radio; Jed Potts & The Hillman Hunters; TheJujubes; Blue Milk; DC Blues; Five Points Gang and Redfish.

For full details, go to: yorkbluesfest.co.uk. Box office: thecrescentyork.seetickets.com.

The Howl & The Hum: Sunday headliners at YorkLife in Parliament Street

Free community event of the weekend: YorkLife, Parliament Street, York, today and tomorrow, 11am to 9pm

YORK’S new spring festival weekend showcases the city’s musicians, performers, comedians and more besides today and tomorrow. Organised by Make It York, YorkLife sees more than 30 performers and organisations head to Parliament Street for this free event with no tickets required in advance.

York’s Music Venue Network presents Saturday headliners Huge, Sunday bill-toppers The Howl & The Hum, plus Bull; Kitty VR; Flatcap Carnival; Hyde Family Jam;  Floral Pattern; Bargestra and Wounded Bear.

Workshops will be given by: Mud Pie Arts: Cloud Tales, interactive storytelling; Thunk It Theatre, Build Our City theatre; Gemma Wood, York Skyline art; Fantastic Faces, face painting;  Henry Raby, from Say Owt, spoken poetry; Matt Barfoot, drumming; Christian Topman, ukulele; Polly Bennet, Little Vikings PQA York, performing arts, and Innovation Entertainment, circus workshops.  Look out too for the York Mix Radio quiz; York Dance Space’s dance performance and Burning Duck Comedy Club’s comedy night. 

Oi Frog & Friends!: Laying down the rules at York Theatre Royal

Children’s show of the week: Oi Frog & Friends!, York Theatre Royal, Monday, 1.30pm and 4.30pm; Tuesday, 10.30am and 1.30pm

ON a new day at Sittingbottom School, Frog is looking for a place to sit, but Cat has other ideas and Dog is happy to play along. Cue multiple rhyming rules and chaos when Frog is placed in in charge. 

Suitable for age three upwards, Oi Frog & Friends! is a 55-minute, action-packed play with original songs, puppets, laughs and “more rhyme than you can shake a chime at”.

This fun-filled musical has been transferred to the stage by Emma Earle, Zoe Squire, Luke Bateman and Richy Hughes from Kes Gray and Jim Field’s picture books. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Mother and son: Niki Evans as Mrs Johnstone and Sean Jones as Mickey in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers, returning to the Grand Opera House, York

Musical of the week: Blood Brothers, Grand Opera House, York, Tuesday to Saturday

AFTER a three-year hiatus, Sean Jones has returned to playing scally Mickey in Willy Russell’s fateful musical account of Liverpool twins divided at both, stretching his involvement to a 23rd year at impresario Bill Kenwright’s invitation in what is billed as his “last ever tour” of Blood Brothers.

Back too, after a decade-long gap, is Niki Evans in the role of Mickey and Eddie’s mother, Mrs Johnstone.

Blood Brothers keeps on returning to the Grand Opera House, invariably with Jones to the fore. If this year really is his Blood Brothers valedictory at 51, playing a Scouse lad from the age of seven once more, thanks, Sean, for all the years of cheers and tears. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

May in April: Imelda May plays York Barbican for a third time on April 6

York gig of the week: Imelda May, Made To Love Tour, York Barbican, Wednesday, 7.30pm

IRISH singer-songwriter and poet Imelda May returns to York Barbican for her third gig there in the only Yorkshire show of her first major UK tour in more than five years.

“I cannot wait to see you all again, to dance and sing together, to connect and feel the sparkle in a room where music makes us feel alive and elevated for a while,” says Imelda. “A magical feeling we can only get from live music. Let’s go!”

Her sixth studio album, last April’s 11 Past The Hour, will be showcased and she promises poetry too. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Corruption and sloth: English Touring Opera in Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel

At the treble: English Touring Opera at York Theatre Royal, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 7.30pm

ENGLISH Touring Opera present three performances in four nights, starting with Bach’s intense vision of hope, St John Passion, on Wednesday, when professional soloists and baroque specialists the Old Street Band combine with singers from York choirs.

La Boheme, Puccini’s operatic story of a poet falling in love with a consumptive seamstress, follows on Friday; the residency concludes with Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel, a send-up of corruption and sloth in government that holds up a mirror to the last days of the Romanovs. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Eleanor Sutton in the title role in Jane Eyre, opening at the Stephen Joseph Theatre on Friday

Play of the week outside York: Jane Eyre, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Friday to April 30

CHRIS Bush’s witty and fleet-footed adaptation seeks to present Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre to a fresh audience while staying true to the original’s revolutionary spirit.

Using actor-musicians, playful multi-role playing and 19th century pop hits, Zoe Waterman directs this SJT and New Vic Theatre co-production starring Eleanor Sutton as Jane Eyre, who has no respect for authority, but lives by her own strict moral code, no matter what the consequences. Box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com.

Beth McCarthy: Homecoming gig at The Crescent in May

Welcome home: Beth McCarthy, The Crescent, York, May 2, doors, 7.30pm

BETH McCarthy will play a home-city gig for the first time since March 2019 at The Crescent community venue.

Beth, singer, songwriter and BBC Radio York evening show presenter, has moved from York to London, since when she has drawn 4.8 million likes and 300,000 followers on TikTok and attracted 465,000 monthly listeners and nine million plays of her She Gets The Flowers on Spotify. Box office: myticket.co.uk/artists/beth-mccarthy.

Oh, and one other thing

MODFATHER Paul Weller’s gig on Tuesday at York Barbican has sold out.

More Things To Do in and around York as mountainous films and gigs galore mount up. List No. 52, courtesy of The Press, York

The Russian is Homecoming: Comedy turn Olga Koch tries to figure out “who the heck she is” at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tomorrow

GODBER’S comedy, protest art, Russian and American comedy, an adventurous Scott, a DH Lawrence spoof, one of the Wainwrights, operatic Handel, Turkish songs, mountainous films and Velma’s witches find Charles Hutchinson spoilt for choice.

Yorkshire play of the week: John Godber Company in John Godber’s Sunny Side Up!, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, 1.30pm, 7.30pm today; 7.30pm, tomorrow; 2.30pm, 7.30pm Saturday

Coastal comedy: John Godber and Jane Thornton in Sunny Side Up! at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. Picture: Martha Godber

THE John Godber Company returns to the SJT with Sunny Side Up!, the coastal comedy premiered by the Godbers in a family bubble in the Round last autumn.

In Godber’s moving account of a struggling Yorkshire coast B&B and the people who run it, down-to-earth proprietors Barney, Cath and Tina share stories of awkward clients, snooty relatives and eggs over easy.

Writer-director Godber plays Barney and Graham alongside his wife, fellow writer Jane Thornton, and daughter, Martha Godber. Box office: 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.

Activist-artist Richard Lees’ campaigning prints are on show at York College

Exhibition of the week: Richard Lees, Justice, York College gallery, until October 21, open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday

A STALWART activist Hull artist once at the heart of the Rock Against Racism movement is exhibiting four decades of prints in his first York show, with his latest justice campaign project to the fore.

The exhibition title, Justice, is derived from printmaker Richard Lees’s linocuts inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I feel that all art has some element of politics in it, even if it’s to distract you,” he says. Entry is free but booking is essential via yorkcollege.ac.uk.

Barron’s night: Sara Barron will keep her Enemies Closer in York on Saturday

Comedy at the double at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York: Olga Koch, Homecoming, tomorrow (8/10/2021); Sara Barron, Enemies Closer, Saturday, both 8pm

BORN in Russia, educated at an American school in Staines, and now starring over here on Mock The Week and in her own BBC Radio 4 show, Olga Koch is touring her third show.

New passport in hand, tomorrow Olga will try to figure out who the heck she is as an immigrant and certified teen drama queen.

Saturday’s headline act, no-holds-barred Sara Barron, from Chicago, Illinois, is on her first British tour, examining kindness, meanness, ex-boyfriends, current husbands, all four of her remaining friends and two of her 12 enemies in Enemies Closer. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Mike Scott: Back at York Barbican with Memphis keyboard player Brother” Paul Brown, Irish electric fiddler Steve Wickham, drummer Ralph Salmins and bassist Aongus Ralston on Saturday

Return of the week: An Evening With The Waterboys, York Barbican, Saturday, 8pm

FROM the “Big Music” of the mid-1980s, to the Celtic swell of Fisherman’s Blues, to all manner of soul, rock, blues and folk since then, Mike Scott has been ever the adventurer with The Waterboys.

Last year came their 14th studio album, August 2020’s Good Luck, Seeker, and seekers of those songs in a live format should venture to the band’s regular York haunt this weekend. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Turning Lady Chatterley’s Lover upside down: Subversive writer-actor Lawrence Russell in a shocking moment for Lord Chatterley in Happy Idiot’s Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Send-up show of the week: Happy Idiot in Not: Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Helmsley Arts Centre, Saturday, 7.30pm

HAPPY Idiot team up with Worthing Theatres to rip through Lawrence Russell’s subversive, witty and, yes, rude parody of D H Lawrence’s once-banned bodice-ripper.

Russell’s Lord Chatterley will be joined in Ben Simpson’s cast by Christina Baston’s Lady Chatterley, Wesley Griffith’s Mellors and Rebecca McClay’s Mrs Bolton, with Chris Jamieson as the narrator and a score by Savage & Spies, for an evening of high drama, high comedy and highly raised eyebrows. Box office: 01439 772112 or at helmsleyarts.co.uk

Turkish delight in song: Olcay Bahir in her National Centre for Early Music debut on Sunday

World music concert of the week: Olcay Bayir, Dream For Anatolia, National Centre for Early Music, York, Sunday, 6.30pm

TURKISH singer Olcay Bayour makes her NCEM debut with her four-piece band, performing songs from her albums Neva and Rüya (Dream).

Born in the historical city of Gaziantep, she moved to Britain as a teenager and trained in opera. Now she showcases ancient poems and original songs in Turkish, Kurdish, and Armenian, reflecting her Anatolian heritage, wrapped in music of deep roots yet applied with contemporary, sophisticated arrangements, suffused with irresistible rhythms. Box office: 01904 658338 or at ncem.co.uk.

On fire: English Touring Opera in Handel’s Amadigi at York Theatre Royal

Two nights at the opera: English Touring Opera in Handel’s Amadigi, York Theatre Royal, Monday and Tuesday, 7.30pm

ENGLISH Touring Opera returns with James Conway’s new production of Handel’s “magic opera” Amadigi on a tour where William Towers and Tim Morgan share the title role.

Francesca Chiejina and Jenny Stafford play sorceress Melissa, whose infatuation with Amadigi drives her to imprison his love Oriana (Harriet Eyley) and torment him and his companion turned rival, Dardano (Rebecca Afonwy-Jones), with shape-shifting spells and devilish devices. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Taking to the mountains: Spectacle galore at Tuesday’s BANFF Mountain Film Festival night at York Barbican

Film scenery of the week: BANFF Mountain Film Festival World Tour, York Barbican, Tuesday, 7.30pm

THE BANFF Mountain Film Festival joins the world’s best adventure filmmakers and explorers as they push themselves to the limits in the most remote, breath-taking corners of the globe.

Witness epic human-powered feats, life-affirming challenges and mind-blowing cinematography on the big screen in a new collection of short films. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Rufus Wainwright: Follow him to York Barbican on Wednesday to discover how to Unfollow The Rules

Rule-breaker of the week ahead: Rufus Wainwright: Unfollow The Rules Tour, York Barbican, Wednesday, doors 7pm

CANADIAN singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright will be accompanied by a new band, under guitarist Brian Green’s musical direction, for his set of arch classics and new cuts from his latest album.

“I consider Unfollow the Rules my first fully mature album; it is like a bookend to the beginning of my career,” he says. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Under discussion: David Suchet’s Poirot years and much more besides from a 52-year career on stage and screen

Chat show of the week ahead: David Suchet, Poirot And More, A Retrospective, York Theatre Royal, Wednesday, 3pm and 8pm

DAVID Suchet is retracing his steps as a young actor on a tour of 20 theatres in conversation with Geoffrey Wansell, journalist, broadcaster, biographer and co-author of Poirot And Me.

Suchet, 75, will be looking back fondly on his illustrious five-decade career, shedding new, intimate light on his most beloved performances as they discuss the actor behind the Belgian detective and the many characters he has portrayed on stage and screen. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

“Out come the witches, creeps and freaks,” promises York vocal drag queen Velma Celli for a Halloweenish Equinox show at Impossible York

The glam night with the Halloweenish swish: The Velma Celli Show: Equinox, Impossible York Wonderbar, York, October 15, 7.30pm

YORK drag diva deluxe Velma Celli’s October residency night at Impossible York will be a Halloweenish twist on Velma’s Equinox show, the one with “witches, creeps and freaks”.

“I’ll be doing Hocus Pocus, I Put A Spell On You, Radiohead’s Creep, A Thousand Years from Twilight and much more gorgeous musical gore besides,” says Velma, the spectacular creation of musical theatre actor, cruise-ship headline act and Nola jazz singer Ian Stroughair. Box office: impossibleyork.com/wonderbar.

Darker nights, ghostly tales and premieres stalk York Theatre Royal’s Haunted Season

Let’s stalk: Will York Theatre Royal’s fabled ghost, The Grey Lady, make an appearance during The Haunted Season this autumn?

ONCE nights start to draw in, York Theatre Royal will fill its stage with spirits and shadows in The Haunted Season from September 9.

In the home of the restless ghost of the Grey Lady, world premieres by Emma Rice, Matthew Bourne and Tonderai Munyevu will be complemented by scary appearances by horror favourites Dracula, The Hound Of the Baskervilles and the Headless Horseman.

As trailered in CharlesHutchPress, Emma Rice’s Wise Children will complete a hattrick of Theatre Royal visits with Rice’s new adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights in a Theatre Royal co-production with the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic from November 9 to 20.

Lucy McCormick will play Cathy in this world premiere as Rice’s visual and musical style brings new life to this epic Yorkshire story of love, revenge and redemption.

“It is with an earthy spring in my step and epic twinkle in my eye that I announce our new plans for Wuthering Heights,” says Rice, who presented Angela Carter’s Wise Children at the Theare Royal in March 2019 and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers that September.

Lucy McCormick’s Cathy in the poster for Wise Children’s world premiere of Emma Rice’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Picture: Hugo Glendinning

“So many projects have fallen by the wayside during lockdown that there were times when I lost hope but there was no need. Wise Children are back; stronger, wiser and grateful for the chance to sing and dance again. The exceptional cast, crew, administrative and creative teams are ready to go and we are fizzing with ideas, dreams and anticipation.”

Earlier in the Haunted Season, from September 30 to October 2, will be the world premiere of celebrated choreographer Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell, a dance exploration of “intoxicated tales from darkest Soho”, inspired by English novelist and Gaslight playwright Patrick Hamilton.

Delving into the underbelly of 1930s’ London life, this New Adventures show invites audiences to step inside The Midnight Bell, a tavern where one particular lonely hearts club gathers to play out lovelorn affairs of the heart: bitter comedies of longing, frustration, betrayal and redemption.

The Theatre Royal had to wait for 30 years for Londoner Sir Matthew Bourne, doyen of dandy dance, to bring a show to York for the first time on his Early Adventures tour in March 2017 after he introduced mid-scale touring. The Theatre Royal promptly booked his next tour, Matthew Bourne’s Deadly Serious, but that visit never materialised. Now, however, Bourne is back with his Soho tales.

Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell: Delving into the underbelly of 1930s’ London life in the New Adventures production from September 30 to October 2

The season will open with another world premiere, Zimbabwean writer-performer Tonderai Munyevu’s Mugabe, My Dad & Me from September 9 to 18. His high-voltage one-man show charts the rise and fall of one of the most controversial politicians of the 20th century, Robert Mugabe, through the personal story of Tonderai’s family and his relationship with his father as he considers familial love, identity and what it means to be “home”.

Playwright (and pantomime dame to boot) Philip Meeks has history at York Theatre Royal in the form of Twinkle, Little Star, starring Nottingham Playhouse panto legend Kenneth Alan Taylor in the Studio in 2008  and the 2017 world premiere of Murder, Margaret and Me, his comedy-thriller of imagined meetings between crime novelist and playwright Agatha Christie and actress Margaret Rutherford.

Now Meeks will return with his stage adaptation of The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving’s 1820 tale of the Headless Horseman, from October 5 to 9, when Wendi Peters, from Coronation Street, and Bill Ward, from Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Before We Die, will lead the cast and Filipe J Carvalho will provide the stage illusions.

Director Jake Smith says: “Sleepy Hollow is undoubtedly one of the greatest horror stories ever written and a tour de force to stage. The production has at its heart the power of nomadic storytelling and gathering round the campfire for a good ghost story. It is an important story for now as we look at conversations around the identity of nations, communities and humankind throughout the world.”

Coronation Street alumni Wendi Peters and Bill Ward will star in Philip Meeks’s stage adaptation of The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

Two familiar figures from the world of horror will put in appearances at the Haunted Season, albeit maybe not in the expected manner. Kings of comedy Le Navet Bete will sink their teeth into Dracula: The Bloody Truth on September 24 and 25, mixing slapstick with carefully crafted comedy and a healthy dose of things going wrong as the action moves from dark and sinister Transylvania to the “awkwardly charming seaside town of Whitby”.

From October 19 to 23, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective story The Hound Of The Baskervilles will be given a humorous overhaul in a Lotte Wakeham production where farce collides with theatrical invention and comic performances.

Pride And Prejudice’s most roguish gentleman, George Wickham, will seek to set the record straight when Adrian Lukis performs in Being Mr Wickham from October 14 to 16. Lukis, who played Mr Wickham in the BBC TV adaptation, will reveal what really happened with Darcy, how he felt about Lizzie and, of course, what happened at Waterloo.

Two dance companies will return to the Theatre Royal stage: Ballet Black on October 26 and Phoenix Dance Theatre on November 23 and 24.

The poster for the world premiere of Tonderai Munyevu’s Mugabe, My Dad & Me

Cassa Pancho’s Ballet Black Double Bill will feature Then And Now, wherein Will Tuckett blends classical ballet, poetry and music to explore ideas of home and belonging, and fellow Olivier Award-winning choreographer Mthuthuzeli November’s contemplation of the purpose of life in The Waiting Game.

Leeds company Phoenix Dance Theatre will be celebrating 40 Years Of Phoenix with a birthday programme of work by international and award-winning choreographers, including former artistic directors and collaborators.

Lorne Campbell’s new theatrical version of The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff will be performed by BBC Radio 2 Folk Award-winning trio The Young’uns – Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes – from October 28 to 30.

This protest-song celebration of northern working-class activism features songs from the original album, alongside new material and animation, in the true story of a young anti-fascist’s journey from poverty and unemployment in Stockton-on-Tees through the hunger marches of the 1930s, the mass trespass movement and the Battle of Cable Street, to fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

Protest-song celebration of northern working-class activism The Young’uns in The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff. Picture: Pamela Raith

On October 11 and 12, English Touring Opera will return to the Theatre Royal with Handel’s Amadigi, based on a chivalric romance about three young people imprisoned by a sorceress.

From November 2 to 6, York Opera will present The Magic Flute, Mozart’s magical and last great opera, sung in English with an orchestra.

For younger audiences, Rod Campbell’s lift-the-flap book will leap off the page in Dear Zoo Live!, a show packed full of puppetry, songs and all the animals from the zoo, on September 28 and 29.

After The Love Season and upcoming Summer Of Love, The Haunted Season will be the third of York Theatre Royal’s mini-seasons since reopening on May 17. Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 and at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

English Touring Opera to perform three operas in two days at York Theatre Royal

Hail Caesar: English Touring Opera are bringing Giulio Cesare to York Theatre Royal in early April. Picture: Oliver Rosser

ENGLISH Touring Opera will be performing in both the main house and Studio on their return to York Theatre Royal this spring.

Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte will be staged on April 3 and Handel’s Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar) on April 4, both at 7.30pm, in the bigger space; next door will be The Extraordinary Adventures Of You And Me, for young children, at 11am and 2pm on the Saturday.

Directed by Laura Attridge, conducted by Holly Mathieson and sung in English, Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte is a story of young love and fidelity that combines glorious music and farcical comedy in his  third collaboration with librettist Da Ponte after The Marriage Of Figaro and Don Giovanni.

Giulio Cesare, Handel’s epic opera of passion and revenge, is built on “a treasure trove of great arias with immense dramatic intensity”, set in the wake of Julius Caesar’s conquest of Egypt as his uneasy alliance and romance with fabled Egyptian queen Cleopatra unfurls.

Sung in Italian with English surtitles, ETO’s touring show is an adapted revival of their 2017 production, led by artistic director James Conway and conductorJonathan Peter Kenny, who will lead the Old Street Band. Both ETO’s April 3 and 4 performances will be preceded by a 6.30pm pre-show talk.

The Extraordinary Adventures Of You And Me is the latest instalment of fun, engaging and interactive operas for children and young audiences, after Laika The Spacedog, Waxwings, Paradise Planet, Shackelton’s Cat and This Is My Bed.

The 11am and 2pm audiences will meet the hero, Mackenzie, as they prepare to travel through time and space.  On a school trip to a museum, Mackenzie discovers that a pencil case is full of magical worlds.  “Who knows who you will meet and where you will visit along the way, so take a deep breath and expect the unexpected” say ETO of a show created by composer Omar Shahryar and writer/director Ruth Mariner.

ETO’s performance is suitable for Key Stage 1 and SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) audiences. The story features five performers, including singers and players, an ingenious set, interactive songs and sound technology and is recommended for two to five-year-old children.

Tickets are on sale on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.