Phil Hopkins, Arts & Travel Editor

Viennese Whirl – Sweeter Than A Kipling Cake

Photo: Justin Slee
Photo: Justin Slee
Strauss music is as festive as a Vienna Christmas market but when the skies of Leeds are grey and gloomy, it still requires the Orchestra of Opera North to transport you to the mountains of Austria.

And that’s exactly what they did at Leeds Town Hall under the auspices of conductor Paul Daniel, leaving a capacity crowd demanding more and The Radetzky March most likely being hummed all the way home by hundreds of delighted punters!

It has been such a refreshing change (for me!) to witness Opera North this festive season, firstly delivering their offering for the kids – The Nutcracker, Howard Blake’s much loved score from Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman and Prokofiev’s Peter and The Wolf – and now this, easy listening fun for older folks.

And that is the whole point.

Strauss – be it Johann I, II or Josef – does not require intense listening and washes over audiences like a warm Radox bath, making it such a pleasant experience, more so when you have 60+ wonderful musicians doing their thing.

The New Year Viennese Whirl primarily featured the music of Messrs Strauss I & II with happy bolstering from the likes of Dvorak, Korngold, Lehar and De Curtis.

And it was so interesting to hear Paul Daniel’s enthusiastic stories about what he was about to conduct. Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Straussiana was a joy, however, as an Errol Flynn lover, I had no idea that he was the child prodigy who went on to become one of the most important composers in Hollywood, writing the score for Captain Blood and later winning an Oscar for The Adventures of Robin Hood.

This continuing narrative made the entire performance so much more meaningful, as well as joyous, with Daniel bouncing around with the vigour of a man who had overdosed on Haliborange!

Gavan Ring. Photo: Frances Marshall
Gavan Ring. Photo: Frances Marshall
The music was sublime – Offenbach’s Gaite Parisienne was in danger of bringing the upper balcony to collapse as zimmers quivered – and Irish tenor, Gavan Ring, not only delivered a handful of belters (can one say that about a classical singer?) but also brought the spirit of Irish humour into the room despite the stuffiness of his dickie and dinner jacket! Maybe a Val Doonican sweater might have worked better.

The compositions speak for themselves – they should because they are still around after the thick end of two centuries – however, without the Orchestra of Opera North they might have been the sole preserve, this year, of Vienna’s Hofburg Palace.

Instead the scores were borrowed for use by a Yorkshire baton and for a few moments the grey skies of Leeds shone brightly as the magic of Austria momentarily came to West Yorkshire.

Viennese Whirl, Opera North
Leeds Town Hall