Saul/Opera North, Leeds Town Hall, Leeds

The oratorio comes to life (well, almost)
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The Independent Culture

Opera North's Saul, presented in a semi-staged version by director John Fulljames in the Victorian opulence of Leeds Town Hall, made an unconvincing argument for going down the all-singing, all-acting route. But the principals strutted their stuff, even if placing much of the action behind the orchestra made them seem - and sound - hopelessly distant. The Town Hall's swimmy acoustic was no help, but even so virtually all of the soloists were seriously deficient in words.

This was where Mark Wilde's Jonathan scored so memorably. While most of his colleagues skirted around consonants, Wilde articulated words and joined them up into sentences. No wonder his character registered so positively. Though he's loosening up as a physical actor, Robert Hayward's Saul lacked the vocal variety to encompass the mental and moral downfall of the oratorio's tragic central figure. Tim Mead's David also came over more impressively physically than vocally, with his counter-tenor bulging unpleasantly at the top of his range. Lucy Crowe's Michal was neatly and attractively vocalised, but again her text was inaudible.

Christian Curnyn's conducting obtained a broad-brushstroke control over musical events, though some of the detail was fuzzy. It's going to take more than this to persuade audiences that staging oratorios is the best way forward.

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