Looking Back to Look Forward

Well, readers, I like you am shut inside with no concerts to go to. It’s not all bad: I get time to read and to work on projects long dormant.

I’m not particularly ill; and this time gives us all a chance to look back on things, to look forward to what we’ll do after all this, and to reflect.

Though there are no great concerts to go to now, there are plenty of great memories of concerts to remember!

It occurs to me that I joined the ranks of Leeds Living back in early 2016 – probably, come to think of it, right around this sort of time. How quickly these four years have passed, and what fine years they have been! This is a good time to look back on and appreciate some of my finest times and dearest memories while writing for Leeds Living.

Checking the file where I keep my old Leeds Living reviews, I see that I have written some fifty-five! Some of these are composite reviews of multiple events, so I am probably at slightly over sixty. Then there are the ones I forgot to save! Perhaps we’re at 65–70!

Never mind the total. Of those reviews extant, I find that in fact most of them stay with me as dear memories for one reason or another, but I’ll talk about just a few!

Franz Léhar’s ‘The Merry Widow’, Opera North at Leeds Grand Theatre, 30 Sept 2018

Was this over a year-and-a-half ago? Feels like last week, it was such a memorable night. This operetta is a light comedy full of famous and lovely tunes. But, placed in Opera North’s 2018/19 season, which was dedicated to remembering The Great War, the operetta possessed a weightiness, what Chesterton well calls a ‘luminous sadness’. This wide-ranging tone, combined with its unfailingly charming cast, made it one of the most affecting and effective performances I have seen!

Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, ‘Of One That is So Fair and Bright’, Howard Assembly Room, 21 Dec 2017

If ever there were a perfect concert, this might have been it – close to Christmas, and a treat to hear a collection of young, unimpeachably brilliant and gifted singers. The first half was dedicated to the most gorgeous Renaissance choral music you could hear or imagine. The light-hearted second half was given to covering commercial classics such as ‘Santa Baby’ – one of my favourites – with wonderful humour and skill!

Sian Edwards conducts the Orchestra of Opera North

Janacek’s ‘Sinfonietta’ and Bartok’s ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’, Opera North at Leeds Town Hall, 30 Nov 2019

This one is a recent and dear memory. Janacek is one of our favourite composers here at LL, and hearing this amazing piece conducted by Sian Edwards – a Janacek specialist – was a treat. The impressive short opera by Bartok improved on perfection. This was also one of the few operas which my other half could be there for, making it a dear personal memory, too.

Catherine Hopper as Cornelia, Maria Sanner as Giulio Cesare and Lucie Chartin as Cleopatra

Handel’s ‘Giulio Cesare’, Opera North at Leeds Grand Theatre, 28 Sept 2019

Another superb production by Opera North, which converted me into a lover of Handel. The other half came along for this one too—funny how she’s there for the better memories!

Photograph provided by Opera North

Verdi’s ‘Aïda’, Opera North at Leeds Town Hall, 1 May 2019

This ‘concert staging’ by Opera North was another great discovery. The review set me off reading obsessively about Verdi and Egyptomania. If I go and read about it, I take it as a sign that a production has awakened my interest and stirred my imagination! I so loved the opera, I found myself watching it again that summer in Verona Arena.

Photograph provided by Adverse Camber.

Leeds Literature Festival and Adverse Camber’s ‘The Shahnameh’, April 2019

‘Discovery’ is becoming a keyword in this retrospective. At Leeds Lit Fest 2019 I discovered that, yes, I do like Literature Festivals after all, that Walter Raleigh is most interesting, and that I need to read M. R. James’ stories some time. Most importantly, I discovered, through Adverse Camber’s charming family production, the beautiful Persian epic poem ‘The Shahnameh’ by Ferdowsi. The programme even recommended a particular translation, the 800-page copy of which is currently on my desk waiting for time to be read! (If only my quarantine reading list weren’t already so full.)

Photograph provided by Opera North

A Piano Recital and Masterclass by Alessio Bax, Howard Assembly Room, 14–15 May 2018

Sometimes one goes to a concert not expecting anything, and is blown away. This happened when I discovered the wonderful singer Benjamin Appl—who sadly couldn’t quite make the list—and this amazing pianist, surely one of the best playing today. I was so impressed, I ran out into the hall during the interval and tried to arrange with our good Leeds Living editor for me to review his masterclass the next day! Fortunately I did, and I believe I learned more about music in that hour-and-a-bit than I had in years.

Photograph provided by Opera North

Janacek’s ‘Katya Kabanova’, Opera North at Leeds Grand Theatre, 2 Feb 2019

This was an exciting time. Not only was this my first acquaintance with what is now perhaps my favourite opera—Janacek’s ‘Katya Kabanova’—but I had the added pleasure of conducting an interview with my two favourite singers in the production! I often intend to buy a ticket and see a production a second time; this was the only occasion on which that intention became a reality!

Photograph provided by Opera North

‘Silent Night’, a new Opera by Kevin Puts, Opera North at Leeds Town Hall, 30 Nov 2018

This had the distinction of being the UK première of this fascinating new opera. I said at the time that the opera is not perfect in terms of its script or story; but Puts’ music is frequently jaw-dropping, and with a charismatic cast and a beautiful ‘concert staging’, this evening sticks in the memory and will do, I’m sure, for many years

Northern Broadsides’ ‘Cyrano’, West Yorkshire Playhouse, 28 Feb 2017

Northern Broadsides divide opinion. I have seen four of their productions now and most of them were superbly fun and imaginative. Perhaps my favourite was this Yorkshire version of Rostand’s amazing play ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’. We who are without French cannot read the (so I’m told) beautiful verse of this play ourselves; thank God for companies like Northern Broadsides, who inject plenty of life into an English version instead!

What a wonderful four years it has been; and what a pleasure and a privilege to be allowed to review all these fine things, to which some of Leeds’ greatest creative talents dedicate enormous time, energy, and money. I think we all ought to show them the appropriate support and patronage once we’re released from house arrest!

Feature photograph provided by Opera North.

Charles Eager

Charles writes on classical music and opera.  He is co-author of Synkronos,  published in September 2017.

Do you have a story to tell?
We want to hear your stories and help you share them.