Opera North announces 2021/22 season

Not only have Opera North announced five new productions for its 2021/22 season, but also an amazing programme of live music in the Howard Assembly Room!

The opera company have been transforming its central Leeds base following a £18million capital redevelopment programme. Music Works will see Opera North move back into the greatly enhanced Howard Opera Centre, as well as opening a new Education Studio. The Howard Assembly Room will also reopen later this year, bringing with it a diverse artistic programme of gigs, recitals, new commissions, installations, talks and film screenings now matched with improved front-of-house visitor facilities and a new restaurant and bar on New Briggate, Leeds. It’s certainly a very exciting time for Opera North!

The idea is that the new venues will be a main visitor destination for the heritage quarter, bringing people together to learn and to make music.

Of course, alongside this exciting news is the Opera North’s first full season since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The 2021/22 season opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on 2 October 2021 with a new production of Bizet’s Carmen, conducted by Garry Walker in his first production as Opera North’s new Music Director. The Company’s first Carmen in over a decade is directed by Edward Dick, with American mezzo-soprano Chrystal E. Williams in the title role and Canadian tenor Antoine Bélanger as Don José.

A double-bill of works by Leonard Bernstein sees a revival of his one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti paired with a new co-production of West Side Story Symphonic Dances in collaboration with Phoenix Dance Theatre. Conducted by Antony Hermus, Opera North’s Principal Guest Conductor and choreographed by Phoenix Dance Theatre’s recently appointed Artistic Director Dane Hurst, Symphonic Dances will be an entirely new dance work, interpreting Bernstein’s thrilling music in an exploration of identity and conflict. It’ll be a really interesting piece of work, and combining opera and dance will be a unique and exhilarating audience experience.

Next up is a new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto, conducted by Garry Walker and directed by the British Nigerian actor/director Femi Elufowoju Jr. in his operatic debut, with Eric Greene singing the title role in a cast also including Sir Willard White and Roman Arndt. A new production of Handel’s Alcina, Opera North’s first environmentally sustainable production, is conducted by Laurence Cummings and directed by Tim Albery, with Máire Flavin as Alcina and Patrick Terry as Ruggiero.

The year is completed by a rescheduled tour of Wagner’s Parsifal, which will open at Leeds Grand Theatre before touring to concert halls across the country. The Company’s former Music Director, Richard Farnes, returns to Opera North to conduct a superb cast including Brindley Sherratt as Gurnemanz and Toby Spence as Parsifal, both in role debuts.

All productions will open at Leeds Grand Theatre before touring. Opera North and Leeds Grand will, of course, be following all government guidelines and restrictions. The priority will always be keeping audience members, cast and crew safe. More information and the latest guidance on COVID measures can be found at operanorth.co.uk/covid-19-audience-guidance

Furthering Opera North’s commitment to accessibility, the 2021-22 season will see an increased number of audio described performances. For the tour of Parsifal to concert halls, the company will be broadcasting pre-recorded audio description to mobile devices for all performances, ensuring audience members can enjoy an opera sung in another language if they are no longer able to read the subtitles. Accessibility in the arts is hugely important – everyone should have an equal opportunity to enjoy performances – so it’s great to see companies like Opera North really taking a lead and ensuring everyone can access their productions.

Selected performances of Carmen in the Winter season will be offered with BSL interpretation, and following on from the first ever dementia-friendly full-length opera in the country in October 2019, Opera North has now programmed a second, this time a matinee of Carmen in October

All performances throughout the year will be subtitled (which is fantastic) and will be accompanied by online audio notes, including details of how the staging and costumes look for people who are blind or partially-sighted.

Looking forward to a new kind of Opera North

The Music Works redevelopment is creating a new fully accessible entrance, box office, bar and restaurant, public atrium, and improved front-of-house facilities for the Howard Assembly Room, Opera North’s 300-seat venue on New Briggate, Leeds. Normally for full-scale productions the company uses Leeds Grand, but it’ll be great for audiences to get to know this alternative venue.

Artists already confirmed for the Howard Assembly Room’s reopening season include the duo of legendary reeds maestro Courtney Pine and the brilliant, MOBO Award-winning pianist Zoe Rahman, and another virtuoso pairing in Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and Senegalese kora master Seckou Keita. 

Leveret, the outstanding trio of Andy Cutting, Sam Sweeney and Rob Harbron, put a thrilling spin on the English tradition, while at the furthest reaches of folk, Richard Dawson brings outernational influences, a wildly original guitar style and a gift for contemporary storytelling. A new commission for Opera North Projects’ FILMusic strand sees Leeds pianist Matthew Bourne performing a new live soundtrack to F. W. Murnau’s 1927 masterpiece Sunrise.

In October, for Leeds Light Night 2021, the Howard Assembly Room will be transformed through a new and immersive installation on the theme of environmental crisis, featuring live music, lighting and sound design. Everyone absolutely loves Leeds Light Night so it’s great that our lovely venues are already getting involved.

Significantly enhanced facilities for the Company are being created in the revitalised and expanded Howard Opera Centre, named in honour of major donor Dr Keith Howard, with new facilities including a new music rehearsal studio for the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North, coaching rooms, a new green room for artists, and a new Education Studio to provide a permanent home for the Company’s extensive learning and participation activity. Opening in Summer 2021, initial activity in the Howard Opera Centre will include a wide range of youth training ensembles for young musicians, including the Opera North Youth Company and new Opera North Youth Orchestra.

Most people know Leeds Playhouse is a Theatre of Sanctuary, but did you know Opera North has also been one since 2018? However, now, this is the first time the company will have a building of its own into which it can invite refugees and people seeking sanctuary. It’s a great way to bring all members of the community into the arts.

Richard Mantle, General Director, Opera North, comments: “The coming year will be a hugely significant moment for Opera North: a new beginning for the Company as we return to live performance in theatres and concert halls across the North and open our transformed estate following its £18 million redevelopment. A world-class centre for music and the arts, our new spaces in the Howard Opera Centre will for the first time bring young people, community partners, and adults participating in our creative education programmes into the heart of the Company. The newly built music rehearsal studio for the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North also gives our permanent ensembles a dedicated rehearsal space for the first time, while enabling the re-opened Howard Assembly Room, previously used for much of the year for rehearsals, to expand its programme of events, with a new entrance, public atrium, bar and restaurant revitalising an under-used part of New Briggate in central Leeds.”

For more information about upcoming shows and events, visit the Opera North website.

Photo credited to Justin Slee

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