Friday 14 August 2020

Switched On: Opera North's programme of out-door events and digital projects

Matthew Robins with The Little Match Girl designed for Opera North in 2012
Matthew Robins with The Little Match Girl
designed for Opera North in 2012
Opera North has announced a programme of out-door events and digital projects, Switched On, to replace its planned 2020/2021 season. The new programme involves a new piece by Abel Selaocoe, a film of Will Todd's new community opera, live performances of Whistle Stop Hansel and Gretel and an animated film of Puccini's La Boheme.

South African cellist Abel Selaocoe will compose As you are, a new sound-walk for Leeds. The journey will start and end at Victoria Gate, following a route exploring many of the city centre’s most recognisable landmarks as well as its arcades and side streets and the waterfront of the River Aire. Audiences taking part in the sound-walk in small groups will each be given a set of headphones connected to a wireless receiver, triggering new musical chapters at different points on the walk through Leeds, experiencing the cityscape through a new and transformative journey. The music will be recorded by Abel Selaocoe (cello), guest African musicians including Sidiki Dembele, and the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North.

Will Todd's new community opera, A Song of Our Heartland, was due to premiere in County Durham in May 2020, and the work was developed in partnership with local communities. The work will now be created digitally and released as a 60 minute film. Participants in the Community Chorus and members of the community taking solo roles in the opera have been rehearsing with Opera North’s music team via Zoom sessions during lockdown; their parts will each be recorded individually. 

Directed by Caroline Clegg and conducted by Holly Mathieson, the film of Song of Our Heartland will be filmed on location at Locomotion and the surrounding area and recorded by the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North and the newly formed Community Chorus, with solo roles shared between members of the Chorus of Opera North and community participants.

John Savournin's Whistle Stop Opera: Hansel and Gretel compresses Humperdinck's opera down to just 40 minutes with a cast of four accompanied by an accordion [I caught a performance in 2017, presented by the Concordia Foundation, my article]. The opera is ideal for socially distanced performances during lockdown, and a good introduction to the opera. Opera North will be presenting it in a range of outdoor settings across the North of England during August and September with a cast including Laura Kelly-McInroy, Jennifer Clark, Claire Pascoe, John Savournin (who also directs), accompanied by Miloš Milivojević.

Act III of Puccini's La Boheme is being re-imagined as an animated film created by Matthew Robins, with a new sound-track recorded by soloists with the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North.The finished animation will be projected outdoors onto walls in found spaces in towns and cities across the North of England, with limited audiences at each screening listening via headphones. 

I am still missing the planned programmes (and we are assured that the new operas such as Handel's Alcina and Puccini's The Girl of the Golden West will be re-scheduled), but Switched On seems a highly imaginative response to the current restrictions, and an admirable piece of swift thinking from the Opera North team.

Full details from the Opera North website.

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