Opera North's Little Greats

Leeds Grand Theatre

Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) is a searing tale of seduction, jealousy and violent retribution set against an oppressive religious backdrop.

Pietro Mascagni's much loved opera packs a knockout punch in Karolina Sofulak's new production. This UK based Polish director translates the action to her homeland during late 1970s' Communist austerity. The setting is dominated by a towering cross and the stark grey village shop under proprieter Mamma Lucia's ever-watchful eye - a riveting characterisation from veteran soprano Rosalind Plowright.

Turido, Lucia's son, has seduced the deeply religious Santuzza because his girlfriend, Lola, had been "stolen" in marriage to Alfio. However, Turido and Lola are still in love. Santuzza then tells Alfio that they are having an affair. He swears vengeance. The whiff of gun powder drifts across the footlights following Alfio's execution of Turido inside his (Alfio's) taxi - an iconic red Fiat 126 nicknamed the Maluch (Toddler). Giselle Allen's imposing Santuzza gloriously soars above the orchestra and chorus in the famous Easter Hymn. New Zealander Phillip Rhodes' dark-hued baritone and rugged appearance contribute to a smouldering portrayal of Alfio. Jonathan Stoughton's heroic bronzed timbre belies the shifty Turido who, in a striking tableau, briefly becomes the crucified Christ. The dark, fleeting quality that Katie Bray brings to the role of Lola seems entirely appropriate. Conductor Tobias Ringborg squeezes every nuance of drama and passion from Mascagni's music. The Orchestra of Opera North's translucent performance of the famous Intermezzo bathed the auditorium in a radiant glow.

Following a lengthy interval, Trial by Jury - Gilbert and Sullivan's frothy courtroom romp - proved to be the perfect antidote. Sullivan's musical style wondrously parodies ponderous Handel oratorios and Italian opera. John Savournin's energetically choreographed production is sumptuously costumed in the 1920s. The animated Chorus of Opera North fill all the principal roles and are on sparkling form as simpering bridesmaids, jurors and onlookers. Jeremy Peaker's impeccably articulated Judge who throws his boater like a frisbee, clearly has the roving eye for Amy Freston's delectable Plaintiff. She in turn still loves Nicholas Watts' ardent violin-serenading Edwin - the feckless defendant in this "breach of promise" trial. Oliver Rundell at the helm of the Orchestra of Opera North ensures that the whole confectionery zaps along with a sense of delightful abandon. An unmissable treat! Opera North's Little Greats continue at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 21st October.

Geoffrey Mogridge