OPERA / Northern lights

Troilus and Cressida - Grand Theatre, Leeds
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The Independent Culture
We are routinely told that Walton's only full-length opera has never had the production it deserves. This is no longer the case; if it now fails to establish itself in public esteem, the fault must lie in the work itself.

The problems of Troilus and Cressida include Hassall's worthy libretto, Walton's symphonic indulgence, and the colossal demands of the title roles. Milder irritations - the incessant repetition of punchlines, the harp glissandi which signal emotion - retreat before the craggy fanfares, sumptuous orchestration, sweeping vocal cantilena, and post-Belshazzar choral writing, magnificently delivered by the Opera North chorus.

Neil Warmington's designs veer between archaeological detail (armour, costumes), neo-classicism (the painted temple frieze; the massive head of a goddess) and modernism (aluminium ladders; Meccano watchtower), none of it offensive. Attention was effectively re-focused: during Act 1 from the temple to the city wall; in Act 2 from the chess table to the bed; and in Act 3 from claustrophobic encampment in thick grass to open space where Diomede comes to claim Cressida. Nick Chelton's well-judge d lighting maps the prevailing darkness; the thunderstorm is literally a tour de force. Matthew Warchus shows a gift for direction which the opera company will do well to exploit. He follows the grain of the music, combines ritual splendour with naturali sm, and isnot afraid to freeze the stage picture in the climactic sextet. But, since the title roles dominate the work more than ever in this version, he should have lowered the curtain during the orchestral love scene, rather than leave Troilus and Cre ssida, fortunately still clothed, to wriggle unconvincingly on the bed.

The "Opera North Version" uses the shorter, 1976 score but sensibly restores the original 1954 soprano tessitura. Arthur Davies has the full range of Troilus, heroic and amorous; he cuts a noble figure, but should surely appear more vulnerable emotionally than his Greek rival, Diomede, splendidly sung by Alan Opie. Judith Howarth has great potential as Cressida, and should learn to match the emotional range of her acting with variation of these beautifully floated, limpid sounds. Here, she lacked the power to ride the orchestra and, finally, to thrill; the imminent recording should rectify the balance.

The minor roles are well taken, with Yvonne Howard a manipulative Evadne and Clive Bayley a powerfully voiced Calkas. Outstanding is Nigel Robson's Pandarus, marvellously clear in diction and making this equivocal character both despicable and likeable. The conductor, Richard Hickox, integrates the finely-wrought detail with the symphonic sweep of a score whose experienced composer never fails in his sense of growth to a climax.

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