Review: The Golden Cockerel at York Theatre Royal

I am a regular visitor to Opera North and generally see their performances in Leeds so it was a pleasant change to see opera at York Theatre Royal.

By Angie Millard

English Touring Opera are unusual in that they also take opera into schools and are at present offering two pieces: the first is called Paper and Tin and is for Key Stage 2  audiences, (7-11yr olds) and the second is called How to find Your Name and is an interactive sensory experience designed for children with Special Educational Needs. I was amazed to think of the scope of this work and astonished to learn that they have also produced an online animated opera for under 5s. This addresses many elements crucial to an infant’s development. Motor skills, language, peer and parent bonding, communication and creative imagination are all enabled by the power of opera.

The Golden Cockerel has never been shown before which indicates the company’s innovative attitude. It is a fantasy musical piece which echoes the composer’s Scheherazade, in its use of Russian folk tale, but most importantly it is also a satire on the last days of the Romanov Empire and the debacle of the Russo-Japanese conflict.

Beautifully conceived and wittily translated by Iain Farrintgon, I thought how apposite it is, in the light of  the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, now we need more than a fairy tale, we need a sharper, more savage and bitter vehicle to come close to the aftermath of what is happening today.

The opera is amusing Opera Bouffe, containing music which is used to differentiate the various characters. The costume and settings are sumptuous and the singers faultless but as an uneducated listener, I felt the need for a more self-indulgent score: Bel Canto, or as my father used to say, Can Belto.

I was unable to attend their production of La Boheme which I regret. On reading the programme notes I was interested in the director’s contemporary concept and hope to catch the production in the future.

The Golden Cockerel was performed at York Theatre Royal on Saturday 9 April 2022. The Director was James Conway. The Conductor was Gerry Cornelius. The cast were:

King Dodon: Grant Doyle

Prince Guidon: Thomas Elwin

Prince Aphron: Jerome Knox

General Polkan: Edward Hawkins

Nanny: Amy J. Payne 

Golden cockerel: Alys Mererid Roberts

Queen of Shemakha: Paula Sides