There can be no doubt that the Opera North's newly announced operatic season is one of the most elegantly balanced programmes around. The music featured has not only been handpicked, but also positioned very expertly in the overall design of the season.
To begin with, there are two revivals of well-loved operas that never fail to gather up a good audience: Mozart's Così fan tutte and Puccini's La bohème.
The revival of Mozart's Così fan tutte will open the season on 11 September. Set firmly in the 'Age of Reason' and of scientific experiments, this is a period piece with sumptuous costumes and an enigmatic 'camera obscura' set. Tim Albery returns to re-explore the production, which Opera North first presented to audiences in 2004 to great acclaim. Andrew Parrott, well known for his study of early music, conducts, while three of Opera North's beloved young talents, Victoria Simmonds, Elizabeth Atherton, Amy Freston, will feature as, respectively, Dorabella, Fiordiligi and Despina. Another star-in-the-making to tread the boards in the autumn will be young tenor Allan Clayton - who has recently been nominated for the prestigious Royal Philarmonic Society Awards.
Opening on 15 January 2010 (and thus sapiently placed bang-in-the-middle of the operatic season) is the revival of multi award-winning Phyllida Lloyd's production of La bohème. Lloyd sets Puccini's tragic tale of innocence and love in the slightly grimy, tumultuous Paris of the 1950's. Bringing new life to this visionary revival are young singers from all over the world, such as Turkish tenor Bülent Bezduz (as Rodolfo), French soprano Anne Sophie Duprels (as Mimí) and Polish baritone Marcin Bronikowski (as Marcello).
These two enticing revivals are flanked by an impressive string of new productions and a world premiere. Firstly, to counterbalance the pointed irony of Mozart's Così fan tutte, a new production of Massenet's Werther (1892) opens on 26 September. Prestigious director Tom Cairns will collaborate with the acclaimed theatre designer Hildegard Bechtler, and BAFTA winning costume designer Amy Roberts. The singing cast is equally dazzling. Alice Coote will take on the role of Charlotte while the excellent Paul Nilon, who has worked closely with Opera North over the years, will make his debut as the tortured young Werther.
Following this will be another brave choice, and a promising highlight of the season: Janacek's The Adventures of Mr Broucek - an opera that has not seen a major British production since the 1980s. It's an opera of two halves where singers will play multiple characters with many costume changes, and amusingly embroil the audience in the complexity of his reality and his dreams. Naturally, Opera North has exciting new talent to match, starting with energetic young director John Fulljames, and including a strong cast of singers and performers, many of whom are familiar to Opera North's audiences. John Graham-Hall will sing Mr Broucek. Returning to sing with Opera North are Anne Sophie Duprels, Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts, and Donald Maxwell.
Just in case you're still not getting your fix of novelty by now, next on is a world premiere of Jonathan Dove's new opera Swanhunter. With a strong and energetic cast of six, the opera is based on a Norse myth, telling the story of Lemminkainen who, against his mother's wishes, travels North to find a wife on a journey that culminates in his death. This commission follows the enormous success of The Adventures of Pinocchio by the same composer, and endeavours to create an opera that is accessible to the very young especially. To encourage the participation of families, Opera North has devised an enticing series of workshops to accompany the production, taking place in the newly refurbished Howard Assembly Room.
The quest for accessibility continues with a new production of Britain's very own Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore. A soon to be announced cast will be directed by Jo Davies, whose work spans musical and spoken theatre as well as opera, and sets and costumes by distinguished designer Richard Hudson. Young conductor John Wilson will bring his special flair for light music to a production that promises to sparkle.
Closing the season are two older numbers. Opening on 22 May 2010 is Dvorák's haunting Rusalka. Very well received when Opera North first performed it in 2003 and subsequently winning numerous prestigious awards in Australia, Olivia Fuchs' production returns to Opera North with many of the original cast. Returning to the role, Giselle Allen, the much in demand Irish soprano, sings Rusalka, whilst internationally acclaimed Richard Berkeley-Steele, makes his Opera North debut as the Prince. Susannah Glanville and Richard Angus both return to the production in their roles as the Foreign Princess and the Water Sprite. The production is conducted by Slovak conductor Oliver von Dohnanyi, who last conducted Opera North's The Bartered Bride (1998).
Closing the season is a second Italian number, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, opening on 4 June 2010. Sarah Connolly returns to the Company to sing the role of Mary Queen of Scots, in what is a new role for the distinguished mezzo soprano. With the central plot revolving around the relationship between the two main characters, Antonia Cifrone - who sang Lady Macbeth to much acclaim in Verdi's Macbeth (Spring 2008) - returns to Opera North as Elizabeth I. Guido Johannes Rumstadt has conducted a broad repertoire of operas, operettas and ballets all over the world, in addition to conducting regularly the Orchestra of Opera North during their concert season and returns to Opera North to make his operatic debut.
On top of this diverse season, several musical events will animate the stunning Howard Assembly Room in Leeds. The public programme is driven by Opera North Projects and the first full season ending July 2009 focuses on three key themes, 'Voices', 'Russia' and 'Words and Music'. The 'Words and Music' series goes forward into May and June 2009, with particular highlights the premiere of Shostakovich's film, New Babylon and a new commission, The Weather Man, a unique collaboration with the Shrewsbury Darwin Bi-Centenary, marking the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. The show is touring to Theatre Severn Shrewsbury, The Sage Gateshead, the Howard Assembly Room and the Tête à Tête Festival at the Riverside Studios in London. This chamber opera is composed by Paul Clark and libretto by John Binias.
All in all, Opera North is doing a fantastic job of enlivening the operatic life of northern England. Indeed, the standard of their programming and productions should entice audiences from a much wider geographical spectrum than that implied by the Company's name.
This is not a complete list of all the Opera North events. For further information visit http://www.operanorth.co.uk/.
Photos: Opera North Music Director Richard Farnes.
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