Review: Weinberg: The Portrait ****

The ability of media hype to elevate talent to iconic status, with disastrous results for the artist, is at the heart of the story on which the opera, The Portrait, is based.

We must hope that the same does not now happen to the Polish-born Russian composer, Mieczyslaw Weinberg, who has in recent times emerged posthumously from the shadow of Shostakovich in which his music has too long languished.

It is essentially a static opera, its long final scene a virtual monologue for the artist, Chartkov, the vast wealth from his painting of the aristocracy of St Petersburg bringing him nothing but artistic unhappiness leading to his death.

In this UK premiere for Opera North, the director, David Pountney, has sought to overcome the story's lack of movement by strongly characterising the minor roles at the risk of detracting audience attention from the music. Pountney's vision of the work opens with a flying lamplighter, the whole of the first act emerging as a fantasy or a crazy dream with the most elaborate and highly coloured costumes, the nobility becoming walking giants who demand that Chartkov paints them by their own description.

Vocally there is no major female role; the opera largely depends on Chartkov who is superbly sung, in this English translation, by Paul Nilon. The artist's death is a most moving moment. Overall it is splendidly performed; the Opera North orchestra supplies a vast range of subtle colours for the Bulgarian conductor, Rossen Gergov.

Leeds Grand Theatre

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