Wednesday 11 January 2017

Eight new productions: Opera North's 2017/18 season announcement

Opera North - Mati Turi as Siegfried in Gotterdammerung Photo credit: Clive Barda
Opera North - Mati Turi as Siegfried in Gotterdammerung Photo credit: Clive Barda
In an era of stagnant or dwindling government funding, Opera North has become adept at making a little go a long way, creating striking seasons, bringing imagination to bear on the problems of producing Wagner's Ring Cycle, and balancing things by popular and theatrically vivid musical theatre. The launch of the company's 2017/18 season showed that they have not lost their touch. The season will include a remarkable eight new productions, as the Autumn offering is a package of six one-act operas, being presented in a flexible format, with Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, Ravel's L'enfant et les sortileges, Janacek's Osud, Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury and Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti. Winter will see a new production of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera alongside revivals of Mozart's Don Giovanni and Puccini's Madama Butterfly whilst the Summer has a new production, a concert staging, of Richard Strauss's Salome plus an as yet to be announced musical theatre work. The company's 2016 production of Britten's Billy Budd will be going to Snape Maltings to close the 2017 Aldeburgh Festival.

But opera is only part of what the company does, at the launch Aleksandar Markovic (the company's new musical director) had warm words for the orchestra and talked of ideas for long term plans for concert seasons, whilst general director Richard Mantle talked of the expansion of the company's education work.

The present funding climate is challenging, Opera North's grant is frozen for four years and as 65% of the company's funding comes from central government, any change in grant has a significant effect. But there are positive points, the company has doubled its private sector funding, and has been confident enough to restore the chorus to full strength at 36. The company puts on a diverse range of work in its second venue in Leeds, the Howard Assembly Rooms where 90 performances were mounted in 2016.

In 2004 the company mounted its Eight little greats season, of eight one-act operas, and the Autumn 2017 season sees a return to this format. This time the operas have been chosen to be accessible, yet with a wide variety of works. In Leeds the operas will be performed in flexible fashion, with people able to book for one or two in an evening. This has been done out of a desire to relax the rigid nature of opera going, and allow people to be more flexible and sociable, and to choose repertoire which will encourage newcomers to experiment.

The six operas are being designed by Charles Edwards, who also directs Pagliacci, whilst Annabel Arden directs L'enfant et les sortileges and Osud, Karoline Sofulak directs Cavalleria Rusticana, John Savournin directs Trial by Jury, and Matthew Eberhardt directs Trouble in Tahiti. Aleksandar Markovic will be conducting three operas (Pagliacci, L'enfant et les sortileges, Osud ), Tobias Ringborg conducts     (Cavalleria Rusticana, Trouble in Tahiti), and Oliver Rundell conducts Trial by Jury,

Following on from the successful showcasing of the chorus members, who took all the roles in Sondheim's Into the Woods, which the company performed in collaboration with the West Yorkshire Playhouse this summer, Trial by Jury will be cast from chorus members. The remaining five operas are cast almost from a repertory company as many singers are performing two roles (with John Savournin singing in one opera and directing another). Peter Auty plays Canio in Pagliacci and , Giselle Allen plays Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana and Mila in Osud, Rosalind Plowright plays Mamma Lucia in Cavalleria Rusticana and Mila's mother in Osud, Wallis Giunta as the boy in L'enfant et les sortileges and as Dinah in Trouble in Tahiti, Quirjn de Lang as Sam in Trouble in Tahiti and singing in L'enfant et les sortileges, John Graham Hall as Zivny in Osud and singing in L'enfant et les sortileges, Katie Bray as Lola in Cavalleria rusticana and singing in L'enfant et les sortileges, Philip Rhodes as Silvio in Pagliacci and Alfio in Cavalleria rusticana, plus Richard Burkhard, Joseph Shovelton, and Fflur Wyn. The season will be performed in Leeds, Hull, Nottingham, Newcastle, and Salford Quays.

William Dazeley as Don Giovanni in Alessandro Talevi's production at Opera North
William Dazeley as Don Giovanni in
Alessandro Talevi's production at Opera North
Winter 2018 will see Richard Farnes returning to conduct a new production of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera directed by Tim Albery with Rafael Rojas, Phillip Rhodes, Adrienn Miksch and Madame Arvidson. Tim Albery's production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly returns with Anne Sophie Duprels, Merunas Vitulskis and Peter Savidge.  Alessandro Talevi's production of Don Giovanni returns with Aleksandar Markovic conducting, with a cast including William Dazeley, Alistair Miles, James Platt, Jennifer Davis, Nicholas Watts, Elizabeth Atherton, Ross McInroy and Kathryn Rudge. The season will be played in Leeds, Salford Quays, Nottingham and Newcastle.

For Summer 2018 the company will tour a concert staging of Richard Strauss's Salome, conducted by Aleksandar Markovic with Jennifer Holloway, Katarina Karneus and Robert Hayward. The opera will be touring to Leeds, Edinburgh, Warwick and Liverpool.

The company's new musical director Aleksandar Markovic first worked with the company in January 2015, conducting Janacek's Jenufa (see my review) and a concert with the orchestra. At the launch he said that he was knocked out by his first encounter with the company, finding the orchestra responding with incredible flexibility, and that the chorus were equally impressive. Markovic has already conducted Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier earlier in this season (see my review) and returns to conduct the concert staging of Puccini's Turandot this summer. He is clearly committed to the company, and will be conducting five operas in the 2017/18 season as well as symphony concerts.

As part of the Hull's year as the City of Culture in 2017, the company are involved in performing a new sound installation for the Humber Bridge, The Height of the Reeds composed by Arve Henriksen as well as performing a new work by Gavin Bryars, Winestead. They will be returning to the New Theatre in Hull for the first time in a number of years, and performing the concert staging of Puccini's Turandot in Hull City Hall in Summer 2017.

The company's education work has expanded so that now 1000 children per week in the Leeds area are learning instruments or learning to sing. There are burgeoning children's and youth choirs, as well as an increase in the interest of and engagement with the young people. And this will be expanded to Hull as part of the 2017 year of culture there.

The company's concert staging of Wagner's Ring Cycle continues to be showcased. Das Rheingold will be broadcast on BBC Four on 12 February 2017 whilst the entire cycle will be available on BBC Arts Online, and on BBC iPlayer.

Full details of the 2017/18 season from the Opera North website.

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