Monday 22 January 2024

UK-based arts writer, Tony Cooper, offers a preview of Northern Opera Group’s 8th Annual Leeds Opera Festival which includes a brand-new opera on Sherlock Holmes.

Murder, Mystery & Music: Northern Opera Group's Leeds Opera Festival 2024

Running from 17 August to 8 September 2024, the 8th Annual Leeds Opera Festival, programmed by Northern Opera Group, offers audiences a blend of world premières alongside exciting collaborations designed for the whole community. The festival’s renowned for combining new productions of rare operas peppered by  a wide programme of talks, panel discussions, workshops and other events across the late August Bank Holiday weekend.  

For instance, the 2023 festival featured the UK première of Robert Rodriguez’ opera Frida alongside a collaboration with the Northern School of Contemporary Dance on Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires in a healthy and inspiring four-week programme of opera and music inspired by Latin America. Other recent productions include Charles Villiers Stanford’s Much Ado About Nothing (2019) and Handel’s Silla (2022).  

And reaching out to communities in Leeds and Bradford, Northern Opera Group is committed in enabling people of all ages and abilities to take part in opera with an annual community opera engaging participants and family audiences in both these important and culturally fired-up northern towns. Recent productions have included César Cui’s Little Red Riding Hood (2022) and David Parry’s Pied Piper of Hamelin (2024). 

Piazzolla: Maria de Buenos Aires - Leeds Opera Festival 2023 (Photo: Rhian Hughes)
Piazzolla: Maria de Buenos Aires - Leeds Opera Festival 2023 (Photo: Rhian Hughes)

And a major new commission this year sees the world’s first-ever opera adaptation surrounding the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes. Entitled Sherlock Holmes and The Sign of Four, the opera’s directed by David Ward, written by award-winning composer Lliam Paterson (also responsible for the libretto) and conducted by Ellie Slorach with stage design by Caitlin Mawhinney and lighting by Charly Dunford. Audiences can, therefore, well expect a musical journey through the iconic tale bringing a fresh perspective to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic work. 

The outstanding bass Edward Hawkins leads a strong cast in the title-role working alongside tenor David Horton as Watson while soprano Ellen Mawhinney is cast in the role of Mary and bass Trevor Eliot Bowes as Jonathan Small. The cast is further strengthened by Katy Thomson (Mrs Hudson), Dominic Mattos (Thaddeus Sholto) and Zahid Siddiqui (Athelney Jones). 

Complementing the mysteries and intrigue of Mr Holmes’ shenanigans an interactive mystery show will tour West Yorkshire libraries targeted for children from 8 to12 years old. Entitled The Book of Eternity the show will call at over 20 libraries across Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and Kirklees offering an immersive experience which promises to bring the magic of opera to diverse communities across the region which will include creative workshops with primary school pupils in Leeds. The story is written by leading children’s mystery author, Clare Povey. 

The festival will also feature a Musical Escape Room which combines the thrill of opera with the immersive challenges of an escape room experience. This collaboration with a local Escape Room company promises a unique and entertaining fusion of music and mystery that would, I’m sure, impress the famous deerstalker detective. 

A new direction this year is the introduction of the festival’s first guest artistic director, a move designed to diversify artistic leadership and support the next generation of opera leaders. And as part of its wider commitment to fostering a more equitable and sustainable opera community, Northern Opera Group has also become one of the only companies to establish a house agreement with Equity. This agreement solidifies the company’s long-standing commitment to appropriate levels of pay and positive working conditions for artists. 

The festival is supported by Arts Council England, International Music and Art Foundation, Postlethwaite Music Foundation, RVW Trust, Marchus Trust, Leeds Community Foundation, Sir Keith Howard Foundation and Leeds City Council. 

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