Geoffrey Mogridge reviews Leeds Youth Opera’s February 14 performance of Verdi’s Macbeth at Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds.

No other organisation in the country offers young people the same opportunities to perform in a fully staged opera. Since the inception of Leeds Youth Opera (LYO) in 1971, at least two productions were staged every year until 2005 at the much missed Leeds Civic Theatre and, since then, at the Carriageworks.

Verdi's opera focuses as much on the diabolical Lady Macbeth as on her murderous husband. Central to the disintegration of this infernal couple are the witches - agents of Macbeth's fate. Shakespeare writes for just three of them, Verdi's opera requires a whole chorus of witches.

Production director Emily Howard Cobley hails from New York and she has sung in Wagner's Die Walkure at the Metropolitan Opera no less. Emily's production stays true to the spirit of Verdi's opera and respects both the music and the singers - a concept sadly now alien to many of today's directors. The simple, uncluttered and eerily lit staging allows ample space for the final battle in which the liberating forces obscure themselves with tree branches for their storming of Macbeth's Castle.

Verdi’s dramatic overture creates more than a hint of the supernatural and the evil soon to be unleashed. Under the inspirational baton of Tom Newall, LYO Orchestra’s biting trumpets, bassoons, scurrying strings and menacing drum rolls effectively set the scene. A talented young company superbly rose to the challenge. It is common practice for LYO to cast two sets of principals. Last Thursday, Chris Childs Santos in the title role delivered a powerful and anguished characterisation, despite having to sing through a cold. Rachel Abbott as a chillingly resolute Lady Macbeth carried off her famous Brindisi with panache and, in the sleepwalking scene, finely judged her character’s deteriorating mental state.

Tom Sheldon was a softly-grained Banquo; while Joseph Spratt as Macduff and Bertie Yates as Malcolm created arresting portrayals. Company members also played a host of cameo roles in addition to infusing the big choral numbers with such passion. LYO will be staging the sparkling operetta Die Fledermaus at the Carriageworks from July 10 -13.