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Northern Ballet are renowned for nurturing and showcasing some of the best dancers out there, and their production of Wuthering Heights shows how they do this perfectly. Brooks-Daw and Dixon execute Nixon’s stunning choreography with precision and character; the former carefully draws out a conflicted, emotionally-charged performance while the latter creates a portrait of a man on a true, torturous journey of the self. Their young counterparts, played by Jenny Hackwell and Matthew Topliss, act as a pleasant innocent contrast to the impassioned, fierce atmosphere generated by their future selves, helped to create a shifting dynamic throughout the piece.More on theatre as The Stage reviews Samantha Ellis's play How to Date a Feminist.
These central performances are firmly buffeted by the talents of Koon and the rest of the company, who gracefully help to establish Nixon’s vision of the moody, encroaching world from Bronte’s book. Further adding to this stunning vision is the sumptuous score from Schönberg, which aids the performers in conjuring up the maelstrom of emotions that Wuthering Heights has always been admired for.
Ali Allen’s set design is also a well-considered production value. With simple set pieces being sleekly brought and flown in at key moments, she has created a space that really allows the performers to breathe and fill the vast Quarry Theatre with emotion and a presence that keeps you engaged from the very beginning. For instance, the use of theatrical fog in scenes on the moors might not sound the most exciting – or innovative – thing in the world, but it’s the smallest touches that help to emphasise the magical undercurrent of this moving, captivating piece.
David Grill’s lighting design is a perfect complement to this, painting Allen and Nixon’s shared canvas with an array of washes and carefully selected effects that do everything to highlight the power of the company and Brontë’s narrative. It works in perfect harmony with the rest of the production values to create a stunning scenography that brims with atmosphere.
Wuthering Heights, like the previous shows I’ve seen from Northern Ballet, is nothing short of spectacular. It makes for a lovely evening of strong storytelling from a company that proves its worth and sheer talent time and time again. Moreover, it brings us closer to a respected story about the unrelenting power of love, and highlights a special connection with the emotional and physical through the stunning performances of its dancers. Wuthering Heights kicks off the Playhouse’s new season perfectly, and is an absolute must see. (Adam Bruce)
The twist here is it’s Kate’s boyfriend Steve who’s the feminist. Raised by a activist single mum, he even tempers his proposal of marriage with an apology for the patriarchy. His ardent feminism makes Kate question her own and the play is strong on the complexities of modern womanhood – how do you balance feminism with an attraction to Heathcliff bad-boy types? What does it say about you if you find your partner's insistence on consideration and respect a bit of a turn-off? (Natasha Tripney)Classical Voice America has a lengthy article on the CD release of Carlisle Floyd's Wuthering Heights opera.
Floyd wrote the libretto for his opera and pretty much followed the distillation of the novel as rendered by the writers for the Wyler film. This meant leaving out the second part of the novel as well as numerous episodes in the first part. These are the sorts of issues that librettists and composers have to sort out all the time, and it becomes a question of what will work on an opera stage in terms of the arc of the narrative and character development. In the case of Floyd’s opera, using the Wyler film as a model – and the film itself often has an operatic feel with extensive use of music composed by Alfred Newman – the composer-librettist gives us what passes for a love scene between Cathy and Heathcliff as they roam free in the heather in Act I, scene 2. Then, in Act II, scene 2, Cathy has an extended aria in which she agonizes over marrying Edgar while still in love with Heathcliff. The opera culminates in Cathy’s death scene, in which Heathcliff vividly recalls how, in their youth, they were so happy together, cavorting on the moors.
Although the libretto is good, one might well ask whether the music rises to the challenge of the words. Certainly, Cathy’s aria in Act II, a set piece that Floyd composed for Phyllis Curtin before he wrote the opera, is well crafted and powerfully captures Cathy’s ambivalence. The love scene in Act I, however, is not nearly strong enough to convey the self-destructive passion of the lovers. It is odd that Floyd, who writes in a full-blown romantic style, misses the opportunity to write a real love duet. Strangely, in this crucial scene, Cathy and Heathcliff never sing together.
In the final scene, with Cathy on her deathbed and Heathcliff consoling her as in the film, Floyd’s music seems aimless and uninvolving, much less effective than Newman’s in the film. Newman’s use of a solo cello with solo strings is far more moving.
Lyric coloratura Georgia Jarman, in the role of Cathy, gives a very fine performance. Jarman was recently featured in a wonderful Covent Garden performance of Szymanowski’s opera King Roger, staged by Kaspar Holten and conducted by Antonio Pappano (Opus Arte DVD OA BD7162). Both vocally and dramatically, she is a compelling presence in Wuthering Heights. In contrast, baritone Kelly Markgraf’s portrayal of Heathcliff lacks authority, and his voice often sounds strained. Veteran mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer gives a solid performance as the nurse/housekeeper Nelly. The Milwaukee Symphony, under Joseph Mechavich, plays without any special distinction.
As music drama, Wuthering Heights is fairly effective, although there are no memorable tunes. Unfortunately, Floyd’s music too often disappoints us in failing to come alive in the climactic moments of the drama. That said, there are surprising moments; for example, the minuet near the beginning of Act III has a lovely bittersweet quality that Floyd deftly transforms into a waltz as Cathy exclaims “A waltz, please! I must have a waltz! This minuet is stifling me!” (Paul E. Robinson) (Read more)