A few weeks ago Opera North announced Switch ON, a series of indoor performances, outdoor events and digital projects, intended to plug some of the gap left by the company's cancelled live season. A live streamed concert from Leeds Town Hall, presented by BBC Radio 3's Suzy Klein, launched the series, and is still available to watch, running time 69'40". [see below]
As we know, Opera North has a happy knack for creating thought-provoking double bills. Their latest, opening at Leeds Playhouse on 11 November 2020, pairs Handel's Acis and Galatea with Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill's 'sung ballet' The Seven Deadly Sins. The Handel features Nicholas Watts and Amy Freston in the title roles; Anna Pool directs, and the conductor is Anthony Kraus. To launch the streamed concert, Watts and Freston give a chirpy account of the duet that closes Act 1, 'Happy We', with Oliver Rundell conducting members of the Opera North Chorus and Orchestra. Sadly, we don't get an excerpt from the Weill, which will see mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta - Dinah in Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti a few years ago - and dancer Shelley Eva Haden in the dual lead role of Anna. Following Opera North's triumphant production of Weill's Street Scene at the start of the year, The Seven Deadly Sins sees the return of conductor James Holmes and choreographer Gary Clarke who, on this occasion, also directs.
After a short conversation between Suzy and Opera North General Director Richard Mantle, attention turns to Song of Our Heartland, a community opera by composer Will Todd and librettist Emma Jenkins, and directed by Caroline Clegg, who also wrote the original storyline. Commissioned by Northern Heartlands, the Great Place Scheme for County Durham, it is described as 'both a love letter to the landscape, heritage and people of the area, and an act of storytelling by three generations of indomitable women'. It was due to be premiered in May, in the Locomotion railway museum in Shildon; it has been filmed in the same venue, with the Opera North chorus and orchestra joined by the newly-formed Community Chorus, 'with solo roles shared between members of the Chorus of Opera North and community participants', conducted by Holly Mathieson; release date to be confirmed.
Opera North is planning to revisit Beethoven's Fidelio, which the company last staged in 2011. Dates and venues of a concert tour, following four performances in Leeds, are awaiting confirmation, depending on the COVID situation. Mark Wigglesworth is the conductor, and the cast includes Rachel Nicholls as Leonore and Toby Spence as Florestan, both making their Opera North debuts, alongside Oliver Johnston (Jaquino), Robert Hayward (Don Pizarro), and Brindley Sherratt (Rocco). As Marzelline, Fflur Wyn returns to her 2011 role - the only member of the cast to do so - and in the live concert she gives a touching account of her aria from the start of Act 1, 'O wär ich schon mit dir vereint', with pianist David Cowan, Opera North's Head of Music.
Opera North and Leeds Playhouse have collaborated on Connecting Voices. The six components form 'a collection of new and classic work celebrating the power of the human voice'. They include Gillene Butterfield as 'Elle' in Poulenc's powerful monodrama La Voix Humaine, with Annette Saunders, piano, directed by Sameena Hussain, and Orpheus in the Record Shop, a new take on the classical myth by rapper and playwright Testament, directed by Aletta Collins. In a short rehearsal film, Collins and Testament introduce both the overall project and these two segments, and we also get a glimpse of a third, actor Niall Buggy in Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, directed by Dominic Hill.
Sitarist Jasdeep Singh Degun talks to Suzy Klein about his Arya (Sanskrit for 'diamond') for sitar and orchestra, playing the gentle first movement with five Opera North string players. Papercut animation artist Matthew Robbins introduces his take on Act 3 of Puccini's La bohème, which will be projected in public spaces throughout the north of England in the run-up to Christmas. The soundtrack was specially recorded, with Katie Bird as Mimi and Tim Nelson as Marcello, who perform their duet in the streamed concert with David Cowan.
John Savournin talks to Suzy Klein about Whistle-Stop Opera, which he launched in 2016 as either a kind of 'shop window' for the main productions, or a pick-and-mix operatic experience in its own right. Aimed at varied audiences - children, families, schools, adults - each 30- to 45-minute show is performed by three or four singers and an accordionist - Miloš Milivojević on this occasion. Here, we see part of their take on Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, with Savournin, as The Sandman, narrating, and Claire Pascoe hamming it up entertainingly (but of course it's that sort of role) as The Witch. The forthcoming Cinderella promises 'a relaxed and fun introduction to opera through the music of different composers' takes on the same fairy tale'.
Nicholas Watts returns to give a touching account of 'Der Neugierige' from Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin, and the five string players perform the Scherzo from Dvořák's String Quintet in G - the one with double bass, earthy in the outer sections, urbane in the trio.
All the on-stage performers, joined by soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn, then come together for the finale, pulling out all the stops for the Easter Hymn from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, conducted by Oliver Rundell.
Opera North's inventiveness and determination in putting this range of events together deserves full support as it carries them and us through the current situation.
Full details can be found at operanorth.co.uk