Lighting the Dark: A Christmas Concert - Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 17/12/2022 1

Lighting the Dark: A Christmas Concert – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 17/12/2022

Come Hell, high water, winter’s cold snap, and a national railway strike, the Opera North shows still go on. Eight days this side of Christmas their festive programme is already in full swing. And tonight’s performance, Lighting the Dark: A Christmas Concert – specially commissioned by the Leeds-based national opera company – sees Martin Green explore through the mediums of music and storytelling some of the complexities of this annual festival.

Accordion player and one-third of the British folk group Lau, Martin Green has invited four of his musician friends – Ultan O’Brien, a fiddle player hailing from County Clare; Danielle Price on tuba; London-based trumpet player/composer Laura Jurd; and Glaswegian trombonist Anoushka Nanguy – to join him on this voyage of discovery into some of the many paradoxes that exist in this worldwide cultural, religious, and commercial phenomenon. As Green clearly demonstrates during this absorbing show, darkness and light are not a binary state when considering the experience of Christmas. They are in constant flux, he says, like candlelight flickering on a wall.

Lighting the Dark: A Christmas Concert

Entering the stage to the sound of Danielle Price’s mournful, evocative tuba, Martin Green starts from a position on the Yuletide spectrum that places him much nearer to that of Scrooge than ever it does Bob Cratchit. At his own admission, he is not what could be described as a Christmas person.

But just like Charles Dickens’s famous character in A Christmas Carol, Martin Green has an epiphany of sorts, as we follow him on a transformative journey that is captured in his skilful, insightful, and wry narrative, theatrical representations, and an accompanying soundtrack of dramatic folk tunes, festive songs, and seasonal carols – adorned by the occasional avant-garde jazz flourishes of this most impressive brass trio – which reflect the potency of music and its unerring ability to unite people in a shared experience.  

Lighting the Dark: A Christmas Concert

Martin Green’s hitherto bleak vision of Christmas – one populated by commercialism, consumerism, huge neon Santa installations, and inflatable dinosaurs – is leavened by the bonanza of lights that glow in his neighbour Mary’s garden, the anaesthetic of half a bottle of the Famous Grouse, and the profundity of being able to join others in song at his local midnight mass.

Slipped inside the fabric of Martin Green’s storyline is that of Ultan O’Brien, drawn from his experiences of the Wren Boys in his native Ireland, a tradition whereby folks  – mostly boys and men – would go out on St. Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day) with an effigy of the titular bird being carried around the local neighbourhoods on a holly branch or in a box or cage as they all sang and danced. 

As the performance draws to a close, those of us who are able to do so are invited to stand and join with the five musicians in song. It is a powerful, unifying moment and one that reinforces the show’s central message of first seeking out, and then bringing as much light as humanly possible into what can often be an otherwise most dark and foreboding world.

Lighting the Dark: A Christmas Concert

Photos: Simon Godley

More photos from Lighting the Dark: A Christmas Concert at Howard Assembly Room    

A second performance of Lighting The Dark: A Christmas Concert will be held at the Sage Gateshead on 22 December. For more information and tickets, visit

The Howard Assembly Room performance will be available to watch online for free via Opera North’s ONdemand platform from 23 December 2022 to 6 January 2023.

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