Friday 21 February 2020

Opera North in 2020/21, new opera from Iain Bell and Will Todd, Handel's Alcina and a first Parsifal

Garry Walker conducting The Greek Passion rehearsals (2019). (Photo Tom Arber)
Garry Walker conducting The Greek Passion rehearsals (2019). (Photo Tom Arber)
Opera North has announced its 2020/21 season, and an exciting one it is too with Iain Bell's Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel, a new double bill of Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti and a dance version of the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, and new productions of Bizet's Carmen and Handel's Alcina, plus revivals of Verdi's La Traviata and Puccini's La Fanciulla del West. And there will be a new semi-staging of Wagner's Parsifal. The new production of Carmen marks Garry Walker's debut with the company as musical director. 

But the company is far more than just seven main stage productions, there is an orchestral season, lively Community and Education initiatives and a significant number of youth ensembles aimed at everything from inclusive programmes for children from diverse and socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, to a youth orchestra for young people thinking of going into the music profession, as well as a Youth Company and the premiere of a new Will Todd opera. Read on to find out more.

In Autumn 2020, Iain Bell's Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel will be given in Daniel Kramer's production originally seen at English National Opera [see Ruth's review] and will be conducted by Nicholas Kok. The opera will be seen in a newly re-worked version of the score. Dame Josephine Barstow and Lesley Garrett both reprise their roles, with Elin Pritchard joining the cast as Mary Kelly and with many roles taken by members of the Opera North Chorus.

Edward Dick, who directed Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel in 2017 [see my review] directs Bizet's Carmen in Spring 2021 with Garry Walker conducting. The title role is sung by American mezzo-soprano Chrystal E Williams with Don Jose sung by Canadian tenor Antoine Bélanger. No word, yet about what version/edition of the opera is being used.

Handel's Alcina is being given by Opera North for the first time in a new production by Tim Albery in Spring 2021, which will be created from fully recycled, re-used and second-hand sources, as part of our commitment to environmental responsibility. Irish soprano Máire Flavin is Alcina, and French soprano Lucie Chartin is Morgana; Chartin sang the role of Cleopatra in the recent revival of Tim Albery's production of Handel's Julius Caesar [see my review]. Patrick Terry is Ruggiero, Joanna Motulewicz is Bradamante and Anthony Gregory is Oronte. The conductor is Lawrence Cummings.

La traviata rehearsals at Leeds Grand Theatre (2014) (Photo Tom Arber)
La traviata rehearsals at Leeds Grand Theatre (2014) (Photo Tom Arber)
Opera North's first Parsifal is being given in a concert staging, directed by PJ Harris (who directed Opera North's concert staging of Strauss's Salome) and conducted by former music director Richard Farnes. Toby Spence will be singing his first Parsifal with Brindley Sherratt singing his first Gurnemanz [an interview with Brindley is coming up on the blog], plus Katarina Karnéus as Kundry, Robert Hayward as Amfortas and Eric Greene as Klingsor.

Alessandro Talevi's production of Verdi's La traviata returns in Autumn 2020 with Anna Denisova and Camila Titinger as Violetta, Nico Darmanin and Oliver Johnston as Alfredo and Stephen Gadd as Germont [we caught Stephen Gadd as Germont at Opera Holland Park in 2018, see my review]. Jonathan Webb and Manoj Kamps share the conducting honours. Matthew Eberhardt's production of Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti [first seen in the Little Greats season in 2017, see my review, and Eberhardt directed Opera North's recent production of Kurt Weill's Street Scene, see my review] returns with Quirijn de Lang and Sandra Piques Eddy, and will be paired with a new dance version of Bernstein's West Side Story Symphonic Dances created by choreographer Aletta Collins with Phoenix Dance Company. Jonathan Heyward conducts both.

The Spring 2021 season is completed with a revival of Aletta Collins's production of Puccini's La Fanciulla del West with Magdalena Molendowska [who sang Katerina in Martinu's The Greek Passion last year, see my review], Eric Greene and Rafael Rojas, conducted by Paul Nilon.

Garry Walker conducting the Orchestra of Opera North (Photo Justin Slee)
Garry Walker conducting the Orchestra of Opera North (Photo Justin Slee)
The orchestra's concert season will include two concerts with Garry Walker, Britten, Elgar and Shostakovich in December 2020, and Mark Anthony Turnage, Britten and Elgar in 2021. There will also be concerts with Sian Edwards,  Duncan Ward and Jaume Santonja. David Greed, the longest-standing leader of any UK orchestra, marks his final year at Opera North before his retirement with a performance of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1, in a concert also including Dvořák’s 6th Symphony, conducted by Principal Guest Conductor Antony Hermus. David has been the leader of the Orchestra of Opera North since the Company was established in 1978. His last performances with Opera North will be the tour of Wagner’s Parsifal.

A range of introductory and pop-up performances takes opera beyond the theatre and into community spaces every year, including the popular Whistle Stop Opera reduced versions of some of the most famous works in the repertoire, which have introduced thousands of people to opera performance in a relaxed community setting. A new reduced version of Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella) tours in Winter 2021

The extensive Community Engagement work also reaches many community members who might otherwise face barriers to attending live performances in the theatre, currently engaging with more than 100 different community groups in Leeds and West Yorkshire, offering low-cost or free tickets to marginalised groups, as well as creating participatory projects and workshops with Community Partners.

Song of our Heartland, a new opera by Will Todd, developed with members of the local community as part of the Northern Heartlands Great Place scheme and inspired by the voices, stories and heritage of the people of South Durham, premieres at Locomotion, the railway museum in Shildon, County Durham in May 2020, with the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North performing with a newly formed community chorus.

Opera North’s growing Youth Company now includes vocal and instrumental ensembles, encouraging young people aged 8–19 to explore their own creativity by gaining practical experience across a broad range of artforms, including music, singing, drama, design and technical skills. The choral ensembles provide a progressive training structure: Opera North Children’s Chorus (Age 8-12); Opera North Young Voices (Age 12-15), and Opera North Youth Chorus (Age 14-19). The 2020/21 season will see the Youth Company perform Hans Krása’s 1938 children’s opera Brundibár in Yorkshire and in Newcastle as part of the Brundibar Arts Festival, which launched in 2016 as the first annual festival in the UK dedicated to the music and the arts of the Holocaust.

A new Youth Orchestra will be formed in Autumn 2020, designed for 16 to 21-year-olds who play an orchestral instrument at Grade 8 or above. The new initiative will provide the opportunity to be mentored by members of the Orchestra of Opera North and to work regularly with orchestral and opera conductors; it aims to fill a current gap in provision for young musicians planning to embark on a professional career.

In Harmony Opera North, part of a national initiative part-funded by the Department for Education and Arts Council England, has been running since 2013 in south Leeds. It delivers an inclusive programme of high-quality music education and performance opportunities to encourage young people from diverse and socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds to engage with the arts and to benefit from a range of wider outcomes.

Following gradual expansion of the programme, an Opera North team of over 20 specialist tutors now works with over 1,800 children and young people in five primary schools and one secondary school each week. Every child participates in musicianship activities and sings in a choir, and every child from Year 3 upwards learns an instrument and plays in an orchestra.

Full details from the Opera North website.

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