Questions of power and identity, love and loss, will be coming to theatres across the North of England in the new year as Opera North opens its winter season with two new productions, while also offering another chance to see its new production of Carmen which premiered in September. Wagner’s Parsifal follows in June, with newly announced dates at Sage Gateshead and the Southbank Centre, London.
The season opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on Saturday 22 January with a new production of Verdi’s ground- Rigoletto. British-Nigerian theatre artist Femi Elufowoju jr makes his opera directing debut: “I am Black African and much of my work is influenced by my ancestry and culture. There are strong visual resonances of the continent in this production, from ancestry and allegiance to mythology and curses.
“Monterone’s curse is a key driver of the narrative. As someone of Nigerian heritage, I want this moment to resonate in a specific way for the characters whose ethnicity has familiarity with the ‘curse phenomenon’. I want this production to highlight the potency and credibility of that connection. Rigoletto, Gilda, Monterone, Marullo and the Countess Ceprano will be sung by people of colour. These characters would know the power and impact of the curse from the moment Monterone delivers it. On a global level and from time immemorial there have been ramifications for being Black in our world. Our setting is Mantua. Mantua now, Mantua U.K. And though this is a story principally exploring themes of parental love and vengeance; our characters experience life rooted in the politics and culture that has evolved through generations.”
Rigoletto marks the return to Opera North of American baritone Eric Greene, taking the title role. Russian tenor Roman Arndt and American soprano Jasmine Habersham make their Company debuts as the Duke and Gilda, while the acclaimed Jamaican-British bass-baritone Sir Willard White returns to Opera North as Monterone. Opera North’s Music Director Garry Walker conducts.
Opera North’s first ever staging of Handel’s opera Alcina opens on Saturday 5 February,directed by Tim Albery in a production which will move beyond the conventions of women playing male roles in early opera to a deeper exploration of gender fluidity and identity. A tale of deception, seduction, love and loss, the opera tells the story of an enchantress who uses her magical powers to bewitch the young knight Ruggiero and keep him captive in her island paradise.
Baroque specialist Laurence Cummings returns to conduct a cast which includes Irish soprano Máire Flavin in the role of Alcina. Ruggiero is sung by American countertenor Patrick Terry, who will be making his Opera North debut alongside Norwegian mezzo-soprano Mari Askvik as Bradamante and British soprano Fflur Wyn as Morgana.One performance of Alcina will also be livestreamed on the OperaVision platform at operavision.eu on 17 February 2022.
Alcina is notable for being Opera North’s first sustainable mainstage production, following successful trials in utilising reused and recycled sets. Designer Hannah Clark has created the set and costumes using elements from previous productions, as well as sourcing vintage or second-hand costumes and props. Nothing that appears on stage will be newly purchased, and the environmental impact of making and transporting the scenic elements and the wider impacts of the supply chain have all been considered.
Richard Mantle, General Director, Opera North comments:
“Our first mainstage sustainable production, Alcina, is an important milestone for Opera North’s sustainability journey, as part of our ongoing commitment to reduce our carbon footprint and to be a leader for the wider industry in this area. We are extremely proud to be the first opera company in the UK to have rolled out Carbon Literacy Training to our full workforce, and we are committed to putting environmental thought and action at the heart of what we do. Moving forwards, we have pledged to become Carbon Neutral by 2030 and we urge our peers and colleagues across the arts industries and beyond to join us in this commitment.”
Completing the season is Edward Dick’s production of Carmen which opened the Company’s Autumn season earlier this year. American mezzo-soprano Chrystal E. Williams returns in the title role, as the cast welcome back Mexican tenor Rafael Rojas as Don José following his recovery from long Covid. British-Irish soprano Alison Langer sings Don José’s previous love Micaëla, with Hungarian baritone Gyula Nagy appearing as Escamillo. Antony Hermus, Opera North’s Principal Guest Conductor, takes up the baton.
Following the run in Leeds, all three productions will tour to venues across the North of England, including The Lowry at Salford Quays, Nottingham Theatre Royal and Newcastle Theatre Royal, with performances of Rigoletto and Carmen also planned at Hull New Theatre.
June finally sees the opening of Wagner’s Parsifal at Leeds Grand Theatre after its postponement due to the pandemic. The latest in Opera North’s acclaimed strand of dramatic concert performances, including the large scale works of Richard Wagner, Parsifal will tour across the country culminating in a performance at London’s Southbank Centre at the end of the month. The Company’s former Music Director, Richard Farnes, returns to Opera North to conduct, while PJ Harris directs. Making their role debuts will be Brindley Sherratt as Gurnemanz and Toby Spence as Parsifal. They are joined by Katarina Karnéus as Kundry and Robert Hayward as Amfortas.
Every opera will be surtitled and, following successful trials over the last couple of years, Opera North will become the first opera company to offer pre-recorded audio description for broadcast to mobile devices for all performances during the Parsifal tour, improving accessibility for audience members with a visual impairment. Selected performances of Carmen will also be offered with BSL interpretation.
Following its successful implementation for the autumn season, free tickets will be available for 16 to 20-year-olds for all performances in Leeds. Under 30s can take advantage of the schemes running in every venue to watch a performance for just £10, while newcomers to opera can book up to two tickets for £20 each at Leeds, Manchester and Nottingham through the Company’s popular Try it ON scheme.
New production, opens Saturday 22 January 2022
Sung in Italian with English titles
Leading British-Nigerian theatre artist, Femi Elufowoju Jr. makes his opera directing debut with a new production that maps identity and inequality onto a contemporary canvas.
In an exuberant world controlled by the privileged and rife with racism, Rigoletto, a jester at the court of the Duke, is loathed and mocked for his difference, as well as his vicious tongue. The only thing he lives for is his beautiful daughter Gilda, whom he hides away from this corrupt and misogynistic society. But when a curse is unleashed, and Gilda falls in love with the predatory Duke, Rigoletto sets out on a path of vengeance from which there is no return.
Verdi’s ground-breaking masterpiece, conducted in this new production by Opera North Music Director, Garry Walker, contains some of his most passionate music. Alongside the instantly recognisable melody of the Duke’s ‘La donna è mobile,’ and the tender simplicity of Gilda’s aria ‘Caro nome’, a tightly-plotted sequence of duets unleash an irresistible sweep of tragic momentum.
The cast includes American baritone Eric Greene, whose previous Opera North roles include Amonasro in Aida, Gunther in Götterdämmerung, and Billy Bigelow in Carousel. Russian tenor Roman Arndt and American soprano Jasmine Habersham make their respective Company debuts as the Duke and Gilda, while Jamaican-British bass-baritone Sir Willard White sings Monterone, British bass Callum Thorpe sings Sparafucile, and Zambian-British baritone Themba Mvula sings Marullo.
George Frideric Handel
New production, opens Saturday 5 February 2022
Sung in Italian with English titles
On an island paradise, a young man, Ruggiero, has fallen under the spell of a woman, Alcina, who is experiencing real love for the very first time. But on Alcina’s island nothing is as it seems, for she is an enchantress who transforms her discarded lovers into non-human form, and her island is a barren wasteland whose apparent beauty is maintained only by her powers of illusion. When Bradamante, Ruggiero’s fiancée, arrives on the island in disguise, intent on reclaiming her lost love, Alcina’s magic is tested to breaking point.
This extraordinary tale of deception and disguise, of love and loss, of enchantment and illusion, is told in some of Handel’s most richly inventive music, such as Ruggiero’s regretful farewell to the beauty of Alcina’s island, ‘Verdi prati’.
Baroque specialist Laurence Cummings conducts an international cast including Máire Flavin as Alcina, Patrick Terry as Ruggiero, and Mari Askvik as Bradamante, in a new production by Tim Albery, whose many previous productions for Opera North include Madama Butterfly, Giulio Cesare, The Coronation of Poppea, Otello and Silent Night.
New production from the autumn season, opens Saturday 12 February 2022
Sung in French with English titles
Bizet’s masterpiece of sexual obsession and self-destruction is enduringly popular for many reasons, not the least of which is its brilliantly characterful score. It’s the story of a woman on the margins of society, driven by a fierce, uncompromising desire for personal liberty, and of a man who, in the grip of sexual obsession, tries to own her.
The opera’s frank sensuality, stark emotional realism and brutal violence outraged many in its first audiences, and it was widely condemned for its perceived immorality. Almost 150 years later, Carmen presents a new challenge to contemporary sensibilities, whilst Bizet’s music – overflowing with passion, colour, energy and unforgettable melody – continues to mesmerise.
New concert staging, opens Wednesday 1 June 2022
Sung in German with English titles
Parsifal is a story of suffering, compassion, and, ultimately, redemption, centred on the community of knights who guard the Holy Grail. Wagner said it was his ‘farewell to the world’, and so it proved. It was his final opera.
Amfortas, lord of the Grail knights, suffers physically from a wound inflicted upon him by the sorcerer Klingsor, and spiritually from the burden of sin: he allowed himself to be seduced in Klingsor’s magical realm by a beautiful woman. With no cure to be found for his suffering, the community of the Grail is threatened with disintegration. The only hope lies in a prophecy: that one day all may be redeemed by an innocent fool made wise by compassion.
Widely regarded as the most mysterious of Wagner’s music dramas, debates about Parsifal’s ultimate meaning continue to rage. What is beyond argument is the overwhelming power and beauty of Wagner’s music, which reaches new heights of expressive intensity in this work.
Mainstage performance diary
January – April 2022
All performances start at 7.00pm
Leeds Grand Theatre
Sat 22 Jan Rigoletto
Sat 29 Jan Rigoletto
Fri 4 Feb Rigoletto
Sat 5 Feb Alcina
Tue 8 Feb Alcina
Fri 11 Feb Rigoletto Audio-described performance
Sat 12 Feb Carmen
Tue 15 Feb Alcina
Wed 16 Feb Carmen Signed performance
Thu 17 Feb Alcina Livestreamed at operavision.eu
Fri 18 Feb Carmen
Sat 19 Feb Rigoletto
The Lowry, Salford Quays
Wed 9 Mar Rigoletto
Thu 10 Mar Carmen Signed performance
Fri 11 Mar Alcina
Sat 12 Mar Rigoletto Audio-described performance
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Wed 16 Mar Rigoletto
Thu 17 Mar Alcina
Fri 18 Mar Carmen Signed performance
Sat 19 Mar Rigoletto Audio-described performance
Theatre Royal, Newcastle
Wed 23 Mar Rigoletto
Thu 24 Mar Alcina
Fri 25 Mar Carmen
Sat 26 Mar Rigoletto Audio-described performance
Hull New Theatre
Thu 31 Mar Carmen Signed performance
Fri 1 Apr Rigoletto
Sat 2 Apr Carmen
All performances start at 4.00pm
Leeds Grand Theatre
Wed 1 Jun Parsifal Audio-described performance
Sat 4 Jun Parsifal Audio-described performance
Tue 7 Jun Parsifal Audio-described performance
Fri 10 Jun Parsifal Audio-described performance
Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Sun 12 Jun Parsifal Audio-described performance
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Wed 15 Jun Parsifal Audio-described performance
Sat 18 Jun Parsifal Audio-described performance
Southbank Centre, London
Sun 26 Jun Parsifal Audio-described performance
Image: Máire Flavin