BERETS, busy little hats, some with delicate netting, others tipped at a jaunty angle.
Snazzy waistcoats, brightly coloured braces, soft, slouchy fedoras, pretty summer dresses with wraps and ankle strap shoes.
There was a definite Forties feel to the figures milling around, a definite buzz in the air.
So what was going on? Had I got this all a bit wrong? Yes I was clutching tickets for Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra’s staging of Puccini’s opera Tosca in Huddersfield Town Hall and yes, by now I’d grasped the idea that they are an adventurous lot. But this adventurous?
I was in for far more surprises than even I had imagined and I’d been writing about this latest orchestral adventure only a week ago.
But it might just as well have been orchestral manoeuvres in the dark as far as I was concerned. For it seems that the musicians of this orchestra, along with their conductor Ben Ellin and director Keith Cheetham, have far better imaginations than I have. And thank goodness for that.
For me, as for possibly a few more in Saturday’s audience I suspect, this turned out to be quite a big adventure.
I’m used to orchestras, well, playing. And don’t get me wrong, Slaithwaite did that – and remarkably well with bags of tone, shape, power and colour. But the thing is, here was an orchestra stepping out of its comfort zone and doing so much more.
It would have been impossible to sit in the audience and watch what unfolded for one night only and not appreciate what a huge commitment by the whole orchestra and its supporters this performance was.
Performing big orchestral works is a massive undertaking. Staging an opera performance is quite another. And now Slaithwaite has done it for two years in a row.
Tosca is Puccini’s dark heart. Director Keith Cheetham and conductor Benjamin Ellin made it more so by switching the setting of the opera to Mussolini’s Italy where Blackshirts enforced the authority of the dictator’s Fascist Party.
Seeing Keith’s split stage design which put the orchestra on stage, in costume at the heart of the performance, served as a graphic reminder of the way in which the people were involved in the huge political dramas that were going on in their country.
Tosca’s personal journey has huge themes about trust and betrayal, about jealousy, deception and political corruption and those themes loom large in cultures across the world and still resonate today.
It wasn’t hard listening to a fine cast of young singers and of musicians pitching themselves wholeheartedly into an immense challenge on so many levels to understand what Puccini was saying in this stunning music.
But it was also quite moving to see what Slaithwaite’s efforts had to say about what is possible when people trust each other, use their collective imaginations and put their skills to the test.
These musicians didn’t just play this music, they were living it and have been doing for weeks. This was their Tosca, their creation, every last piece of scenery, every feathered hat and every last lovingly played note.
Huddersfield has always had a reputation for its musical tradition and while the town’s musicians continue to push the boundaries as Slaithwaite did last weekend, its future is in good hands. I take my hat off to them and look forward to many more musical adventures with them.