There can’t be many places in Leeds that I haven’t visited over the years, but until last night Howard Assembly Room in the Grand Theatre was one of them. My duck was broken when I went to see ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ which was the umbrella title for a Valentine’s Day concert by the chorus of Opera North, followed by a screening of the eponymous film. In addition to the normal seating the room was set out with several tables and chairs arranged on the auditorium floor, romantically lit by candles, which gave the hall a more intimate ambience.
I must admit that I have seen the film a couple of times before and it is not one of my favourites, so I concentrated on the pre-movie music. The show opened with Chris Noble, the musical director, playing an overture on piano. Following this the singers, eight women and five men, took to the stage to sing the first of three Cole Porter jazz classics ‘Miss Otis Regrets’. This seemed like a strange choice, considering the day, a fact acknowledged by Mr Noble, in that it is the tale of a woman who finds that she has been led astray by a scoundrel, so she goes round to see him and shoots him dead. She is taken to the jailhouse where a mob kidnaps her and hangs her from the nearest tree. No chocolates and champagne there, then.
The second song was ‘Moon River’ by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, written especially for Audrey Hepburn in the film ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, after which the singers left the stage while Chris Noble played the next Cole Porter tune, ‘Night and Day’. The concert ended with the singers returning for the third Porter song ‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye’.
As usual, the singing by the Opera North chorus was exemplary but I must question the choice of material and the arrangements. I have already explained my doubts about the first one but the other two choral pieces also struck me as odd options. They are both very intimate and personal songs, which for me felt wrong when given the operatic treatment. The final verse of ‘Moon River’ begins with the phrase,’Two drifters off to see the world’, which sounds odd sung by thirteen voices in harmony. I did have cause to smile during the song, because all of Mr Noble’s arrangements seemed to involve the men or women singing a line and the other group repeating the end of it, hence when the women sang ‘Waiting ‘round the bend’, the men chanted ‘Round the bend’. My final criticism was that before he played ‘Night and Day’, Chris Noble referred to it as being very raunchy because the last lines in the song are ‘And this torment won’t be through, Till you let me spend my life making love to you, Day and night, night and day.’ This was obviously a generation misunderstanding, as in 1932 the term ‘making love’ was much more innocent than its present-day meaning.
Once again, I have to stress that the singing and Chris Noble’s piano playing were exemplary. A little more care in the choice of material and the sensitivity in the arrangements would have made for a wonderful evening.
There are several further films in the season at Howard Assembly Room, made the more attractive because it is a very special venue in which to enjoy them.
Photographs supplied by Opera North