Thursday 28 April 2016

Brave new season at Opera North

Aleksandr Markovic
Aleksandr Markovic
Having produced a Ring Cycle which is being performed on tour, Opera North seems re-invigorated and the 2016/17 season recently announced seems to be full of good things. Whilst the company's big brother in London (Opera North started out life as English National Opera North) struggles, Opera North has produced an exciting new season.

Their 2016/17 season starts with a new music director Aleksandar Markovic, and they will be recruiting 13 new choristers and restoring the chorus to its full strength of 36 under their new chorus master Oliver Rundell. On the production side there are a brave number of new productions (six new out of a total of eight) and some extremely tempting offerings.

Orpha Phelan directs a new production of Britten's Billy Budd with Roderick Williams in the title role, Alastair Miles as Claggart and Alan Oke as Captain Vere; Garry Walker, (Winner of the 1999 Leeds conducting competition) conducts.

Roderick Williams is certainly a tempting thought as Billy, but I think my own favourite amongst the new productions has to be John Fulljames production of Rimsky Korsakov's The Snow Maiden, an opera I have only ever seen in concert. Aoife Miskelly sings the title role with Bonaventura Bottone as Tsar Berendey, Yvonne Howard as Spring Beauty, James Crewell as Grandfather Frost and Heather Rodes as Lel.

Two other new productions, Rossini's La Cenerentola  directed by Aletta Collins and Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel directed by Edward Dick will share the same basic set with The Snow Maiden. All three will use video projection to create the magic, fantasy and darkness inherent within traditional fairy tales. This set sharing is something that Welsh National Opera has been making a great success of recently.

In Hansel and Gretel Fflur Wyn sings Gretel with Katie Bray as Hansel, Stephen Gadd is Peter and Susan Bullock takes the double role of Gertrud and the Witch (I still remember another fine dramatic soprano, Pauline Tinsley, memorably taking both roles in David Poutney's production at ENO); the conductor is Christoph Altstaedt. In Cenerentola, Canadian mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta sings Angelina, with South African tenor Sunnyboy Dladla as Don Ramiro, Quirijn de Lang as Dandini and Henry Waddington as Don Magnifico.

David Pountney's production of Puccini's Il Tabarro will be returning, revived by Michael Barker-Cavan, in a double bill with Barker-Cavan's new production of Puccini's Suor Angelica. Anne Sophie Duprels plays Suor Angelica and Patricia Bardon is La Zia Principessa, whilst Giselle Allen and David Butt Philip are Giorgetta and Luigi in Il Tabarro. Jac van Steen conducts.

The 2016/17 season opens with the return of David McVicar's production of Der Rosenkavalier ith Ylva Kihlberg as the Marschallin, Helen Sherman as Octavian and Fflur Wyn as Sophie. Aleksandr Markovic will make his highly anticipated debut as musical director.

The only draw-back to the season is that the April/May season is reduced to just 6 performances of one opera. Puccini's Turandot is being given in a concert staging conducted by Aleksandr Markovic with Orla Boylan, Rafael Rojas, Alastair Miles, Bonaventura Bottone and Sunyoung Seo.

The Howard Assembly room continues to have a lively complementary programme.  The orchestra also has its own regular concert series, and Aleksandr Markovic will be conducting some of these as well. The Community Engagement Programme enters its fourth year, with 90 different community groups taking part, which turns into 6,400 attendances at performances and 2,325 attendances at special taster performances and workshops.

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