Opera North Double Bill

Lesley Garrett is the star in Opera North’s double bill of tales of forsaken women

Dido and Aeneas Lesley Garrett Opera Opera North Theatre Royal

‘For me, (opera) is the best, it is the most complete art form for me’. These were the words of Lesley Garrett before she took on the highly intimidating task of performing an entirely solo opera as the character Elle in Francis Poulenc’s ‘La Voix Humaine’ (The Human Voice).

The work is far more avant-garde than his two other operas and almost certainly one of the most exposed solo soprano roles of all time.

It was obvious from the outset that Garrett was trying to convey her idea of opera as an all-encompassing artistic ideal in her performance with the Opera North company (her first in eight years).The story depicts a woman attempting to keep alive the dying embers of a relationship with her lover over the phone and Garrett was both engaging and passionately delirious whilst never losing control of the demanding part.

The cinematic Parisian setting augmented the diva like quality the central character conveyed. The score was performed with vigour by the orchestra, including some truly somber cor-anglais passages, which emphasized the depth of Elle as a personality.

More familiar to opera audiences is Henry Purcell’s ‘Dido and Aeneas’, made famous for the aria ‘When I am laid in earth’.

In keeping with the night’s theme of the forsaken woman, the work portrays the queen Dido of Carthage in her romantic escapades with the Trojan prince Aeneas, which ends, as all opera does, in tragedy.

The over-reliance of using a predominantly female cast (wearing the same dresses and red wigs) in this particular staging made the madness metaphors confusing and superfluous. At times it felt as if the music had to take a backseat in order to determine what on earth the staging was attempting to represent.

However, the gorgeous orchestration of theorbo and baroque guitars and the wonderful chorus somewhat alleviate these criticisms.