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Richard Trinder
Editor
8:11 PM 21st November 2020
arts

Opera North's Seven Deadly Sins

Streaming to almost any device, Opera North has extended its reach onto your iPads, laptops, PCs and Smart TVs with a sizzling production of Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill’s jazzy Seven Deadly Sins.

A direct response to social distancing and the current lockdown - hardly friends to the Opera - this is live and on stage. It is quite beautifully filmed, staged, lit, sung and danced. A relatively small production perhaps, but with high values throughout.

Streamed directly from the stage of Leeds Playhouse via the multiple media servers of YouTube, the piece doesn't have the immediacy of 'being there', but does have a number of advantages; camera close-ups not least amongst them; the commute home after the show wasn't too bad either.

This production of Seven Deadly Sins has Wallis Giunta playing one half of the split personalty that is Anna - called Anna I, the protagonist of the piece. Close-up cameras do wonders to show what a splendid actress she is, looking quite angelic as she runs through a whistle stop tour of seven US cities, and the seven deadly sins.

Anna (Anna II), the doppelgänger or alter ego of the performance, is played by an elastically jointed Shelley Eva Haden. This is not a part imbued with much grace and elegance as Haden encapsulates the seediness of the 1930s and feeds it back to the audience with a bitter slice of Brecht. Like chewing on a lime, this is not an easy slice to swallow.

The seediness of the piece is enhanced by the strong shadows from the deliberately stark lighting. Shelly Eva Hadden in particular has every muscle in her torso illuminated and brought into glaring three dimensionality by the biting glare of the white vertical lights.

And so the two Annas - or is it one - progress through the USA, making money by every dubious means possible. They quite assiduously work their way through the entire standard catalogue of sins, and all to save a few dollars to send home to their family. Back home her wretched family are doing little more than building a house and willing Anna on her way - whatever it takes.

After seven years the house is complete and Anna returns home, let us hope to a grateful and appreciative family. Somehow, I suspect not.

So does a live broadcast actually work?

Well, technically it clearly does. From Opera North's perspective it has the advantage of removing the upper limit on the number of seats in the auditorium. It may also eliminate the worry about the cost of hiring a large venue, and then failing to fill it.

From an audience perspective things may be a little different. There's some considerable merit in not having to plough through Friday or Saturday night traffic, with the accompanying rain/snow/hail and drunken revellers that I've seen many times before. But there's a lack of intimacy with the performance on YouTube; put a little too literally, you never feel that you're there. But the advantages of the excellent camera work - in particular the close-ups - add a completely new, and very welcome addition to the performance.

The sound quality is of course of critical importance to an Opera. Not as good as being there, it is certainly adequate, and immensely improved by the lack of rustling sweet papers and sniffling teenagers!

So is this the future? Well post-pandemic and with a fully vaccinated audience then I'm sure that we'll all be clamouring for our old seats back. But I'm equally sure that live broadcasts are here to stay. Football games have been blended between live and TV for a long time and this war against Covid, like all wars has brought new technologies and new ways of working to the fore.

Well done to Opera North for driving boldly into this brave new world. How appropriate to choose Seven Deadly Sins as its vehicle as it was Brecht who said "Don't expect the theatre to satisfy the habits of its audience, but to change them". Never more true.