Opera North to perform five new productions for 2021/22

Opera North has announced five new productions for its 2021/22 season and a programme of live music in the Howard Assembly Room, as it also reopens its buildings in central Leeds following a transformational £18 million capital redevelopment programme, Music Works.

The completion of Music Works will see Opera North move back into greatly enhanced and expanded rehearsal facilities in the Howard Opera Centre, as well as opening a new Education Studio. The Howard Assembly Room will reopen in October 2021 for its first events since March 2019, with 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. The transformed estate forms part of Leeds’ heritage quarter surrounding the Grand Theatre, where Opera North is a regular company in residence.

The new 2021/22 season, which is Opera North’s first full season in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, follows a tour of Fidelio and a co-production with Leeds Playhouse of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music in Spring/Summer 2021.

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.

Performances of Carmen continue into Winter 2022, joined by 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, in what will surely be one of the must-see operatic events of 2022. 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. PJ Harris (Salome) directs this new concert staging, which continues Opera North’s acclaimed strand of large-scale works presented dramatically in concert halls.

All productions will open at Leeds Grand Theatre before touring. Tickets for events in the 2021/22 season will be on sale from June, with audience capacities following the most up-to-date government guidelines. Opera North will continue to work closely with partner venues to ensure that the safety and comfort of all audience members, staff and performers remains the highest priority. More information and the latest guidance on COVID measures can be found at operanorth.co.uk/covid-19-audience-guidance

Howard Assembly Room reopening season

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.

Closed since redevelopment work began in March 2019, the Howard Assembly Room will reopen in October 2021. Its eclectic programme bridges the classical and the contemporary, showcasing top international touring artists from a diverse range of genres including jazz, folk, and world music, classical recitals, chamber opera, films, talks, installations and family events.

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.

Making Music

As the Music Works redevelopment work enters its final stages, Opera North is today launching a new campaign to drive donations to complete the project and fill the new spaces with music. The names of Making Music supporters will become part of a new installation symbolising a musical score. Wrapping around the central staircase in the new glass atrium, the installation will celebrate the making of music in the heart of the building.

To become part of this new artwork by placing a note, supporters can choose a note size, and add a personal message along with their donation of £250 (small note), £350 (medium note) or £500 (large note), which will help Opera North to create a space for everyone, where talent can be nurtured and developed, where artists can make thrilling music and where audiences can be inspired.

Significantly enhanced facilities for the Company are being created in the revitalised and expanded Howard Opera Centre, named for 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.

Funding for the £18 million Music Works programme has come from a range of sources, including a £11.25 million gift from Dr Keith Howard, Opera North’s President and a long-term supporter of the Company, a £1 million donation from t The Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation, who have been joined by a number of other trusts and foundations in giving support, as well as many individuals donating via the Play Your Part campaign. Arts Council England has supported the project with a grant of £499,999 in 2018 through the Small Capital Grants scheme, bolstered in 2020 by a Capital Kickstart award of £500,000 by Arts Council England and DCMS as part of the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund in response to the economic impact of the COVID pandemic on the arts industries.

For more on Music Works: operanorth.co.uk/musicworks

To donate to Making Music and to place a note on the Company’s new artwork: makingmusic.operanorth.co.uk


In the 2021-22 season the Company will double the number of audio-described productions, to four. During the tour of Parsifal to concert halls, pre-recorded audio description will be broadcast to mobile devices during all performances, ensuring all customers can enjoy an opera sung in another language if they are no longer able to read the surtitles. The Company is the first to offer this service after successful trials over the last two years.

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 programmed a second, this time a matinee of Carmen in October.

All performances throughout the year will be surtitled 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.

Digital projects

An increased focus on digital projects additionally sees Opera North preparing the Howard Assembly Room to be a digital concert hall, with increased capabilities for capture, streaming and digital broadcast from and within the venue once it reopens. The Company has formed a new project in partnership with Sky Studios, Resonance: Connect, part of the Company’s strand of residencies with artists from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds. The Sky Studios partnership will create new opportunities for musicians to collaborate with filmmakers, technologists and digital artists on a series of short films. Further digital plans within the year include a broadcast of the new production of Alcina in partnership with the European online opera channel, OperaVision.

Richard Mantle, General Director, Opera North, said “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.

“The operational impact of COVID-19 on Opera North and all of our partner companies, venues and freelance artists will still continue to be felt, and we will be working very closely with our partner venues to ensure that the safety of audiences, staff and artists is our highest priority as we go into the upcoming season.

“One of our new productions delayed by the pandemic, Carmen, will be our first event back in residence at Leeds Grand Theatre since early 2020. We are delighted that this opening production will be conducted by Garry Walker in his belated debut as our new Music Director, following much success in previous performances with the Company of Billy Budd, The Rite of Spring and The Greek Passion.”

Mainstage artistic programme 2020/21

Georges Bizet

New production, opens Sat 2 October
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.

Garry Walker conducts his first production as Opera North’s Music Director, while Edward Dick directs the Company’s first Carmen in more than a decade, following Tosca (2018) and Hansel and Gretel (2017).

American mezzo-soprano Chrystal E. Williams makes her role and Company debut as Carmen. Her recent engagements include her Metropolitan Opera debut, as Maketaten in Philip Glass’s Akhnaten, and the title role in Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk for Birmingham Opera. She is joined by Canadian tenor Antoine Bélanger, a regular guest soloist at Opéra de Montréal, as Don José.

Cast and creative team includes:

Carmen: Chrystal E. Williams
Don José: Antoine Bélanger
Micaela: Camila Titinger (Autumn), Alison Langer (Winter)
Escamillo: Phillip Rhodes (Autumn), Gyula Nagy (Winter)
Frasquita: Amy Freston
Mercedes: Helen Évora
Morales: Christopher Nairne (Autumn), James Davies (Winter)
Remendado: Stuart Laing
Dancairo: Dean Robinson
Zuniga: Matthew Stiff

Conductor: Garry Walker Autumn (ex 17, 19 Nov)
Catriona Beveridge (17, 19 Nov, 18 Feb, 18, 31 Mar)
Antony Hermus Winter (ex 18 Feb, 18, 31 Mar)
Director: Edward Dick
Set Designer: Colin Richmond
Costume Designer: Laura Hopkins
Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher

Bernstein double bill

Leonard Bernstein

Revival, opens Sat 16 October
In a double-bill with West Side Story Symphonic Dances
Sung in English with English titles

The American Dream turns suffocatingly sour in Bernstein’s unsparing examination of a marriage falling apart in 1950s suburbia. Sam and Dinah appear to have the perfect life in their ‘little white house’. But their growing failure to connect exposes a mutual feeling that they are trapped in a life that has turned into a lie.
Bernstein’s score is heavily influenced by the syncopated rhythms of jazz and by the distinctive American vernacular of musicals and the movies. A highlight of Opera North’s Little Greats season of short operas in 2017, Matthew Eberhardt’s production of Trouble in Tahiti is deeply touching, whilst giving full value to the Hollywood pizzazz of Dinah’s showpiece number ‘Island Magic’.

Baritone Quirijn de Lang (Count Almaviva, The Marriage of Figaro; Fred Graham Kiss Me, Kate) returns as Sam, joined as Dinah for this revival by American mezzo Sandra Piques Eddy, whose previous roles at Opera North have included the title roles in Carmen (2011) and The Coronation of Poppea (2014).

Cast and creative team includes:

Sam: Quirijn de Lang
Dinah: Sandra Piques Eddy
Trio: Laura Kelly-McInroy, Joseph Shovelton, Nicholas Butterfield

Conductor: Antony Hermus (ex 4, 6, 11, 13 Nov)
Martin Pickard (4, 6, 11, 13 Nov)
Director: Matthew Eberhardt
Set designer: Charles Edwards
Costume designer: Hannah Clark

Leonard Bernstein

New production, opens Sat 16 October
In a double-bill with Trouble in Tahiti

A collaboration with Phoenix Dance Theatre

At a stroke, Bernstein’s West Side Story redefined musical theatre when it opened on Broadway in 1957. It broke new ground in several ways, not least in responding to the newly contemporary issue of gang violence in American cities, and in the way that the storytelling was driven by dance.
Bernstein himself arranged the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story as a work to stand on its own terms, free of the story of the show from which the music is derived. This new dance work, choreographed by Phoenix Dance Theatre’s recently appointed Artistic Director Dane Hurst, interprets Bernstein’s thrilling, poignant music outside of the narrative of West Side Story, exploring the experience of young people through themes of group identity and family, conflict and violence.
This is the second major collaboration between Opera North and Leeds-based, internationally renowned, Phoenix Dance Theatre, following our hugely successful work together in 2019 on Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Principal Guest Conductor Antony Hermus conducts both productions in the Bernstein Double Bill.
Creative team includes:
Conductor: Antony Hermus (ex 4, 6, 11, 13 Nov)
Martin Pickard (4, 6, 11, 13 Nov)
Choreographer: Dane Hurst

Giuseppe Verdi

New production, opens Saturday 22 January
Sung in Italian with English titles

Rigoletto exists on the margins of a world owned by the privileged few – and is despised by them for his difference. He is in the pay of the Duke of Mantua, a man who is living proof that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Twisted inside by the life he has been forced to lead, Rigoletto is both feared for his sharp tongue and ridiculed for his appearance by the Duke’s entourage. The only thing he lives for is his daughter, Gilda, of whom he is obsessively protective. When, finally, a combination of bitterness and bravura get the better of him, the consequences for his most precious possession are fatal.

Verdi clothes this hard-hitting masterpiece in some of his most impassioned music. Rigoletto contains one of the most popular tenor arias of all time – the Duke’s ‘La donna è mobile’ – but the jauntiness of the tune takes on a much more chilling aspect in the context of a drama which explores the extremes of emotional exploitation.

This new production of Rigoletto is conducted by Opera North’s Music Director Garry Walker, and directed by one of the UK’s leading theatre artists, Femi Elufowoju Jr., who makes his opera directing debut. American baritone Eric Greene, whose previous work for Opera North includes Amonasro in Aida and Billy Bigelow in Carousel, sings the title role in a work of shattering power. Russian tenor Roman Arndt and American soprano Jasmine Habersham make Opera North debuts as the Duke and Gilda, while the esteemed Jamaican-born British bass-baritone Sir Willard White returns to the Company as Monterone.

Cast and creative team includes:

Duke of Mantua: Roman Arndt
Rigoletto: Eric Greene
Gilda: Jasmine Habersham
Sparafucile: Callum Thorpe
Maddalena: Alyona Abramova
Count Monterone: Sir Willard White
Marullo: Themba Mvula
Matteo: Borsa Ivan Sharpe

Conductor: Garry Walker ex 19 Feb, 16 Mar
Patrick Milne: 19 Feb, 16 Mar
Director: Femi Elufowoju Jr.
Set and Costume Designer: Rae Smith
Lighting Designer: Bruno Poet
Movement: Laila Diallo

George Frideric Handel

New production, opens Saturday 5 February
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’.

Opera North’s first ever production of one of Handel’s most popular operas is directed by Tim Albery. It reunites Albery and designer Hannah Clark with Baroque specialist Laurence Cummings, who led the Company’s highly acclaimed production of Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea in 2014. It will also be Opera North’s first mainstage production to be created from recycled, re-used and second-hand sources, as part of our commitment to environmental responsibility.

Cast and creative team includes:

Alcina: Máire Flavin
Ruggiero: Patrick Terry
Bradamante: Joanna Motulewicz
Morgana: Fflur Wyn
Oronte: Nick Pritchard
Melissa: Claire Pascoe

Conductor: Laurence Cummings
Director: Tim Albery
Set and costume designer: Hannah Clark
Lighting designer: Thomas C. Hase
Video designer: Ian Galloway

Richard Wagner

New concert staging, opens Wed 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.
Opera North’s first Parsifal is conducted by the Company’s former Music Director Richard Farnes, whose performances of the Opera North Ring cycle in 2016 met with universal acclaim. PJ Harris (Salome) directs this new dramatic concert staging.

A strong cast is headed by Toby Spence, returning to Opera North following Fidelio (2020/21), with Katerina Karnéus (Fricka, Die Walküre; Herodias, Salome) as Kundry, Brindley Sherratt (Philip II, Don Carlos; Claggart, Billy Budd; Rocco, Fidelio) as Gurnemanz, Robert Hayward (Wotan, Die Walküre; Scarpia, Tosca; Don Pizarro Fidelio) as Amfortas and Eric Greene (Gunther, Götterdämmerung; Amonasro, Aida) as Klingsor.

Cast and creative team includes:

Parsifal: Toby Spence
Kundry: Katarina Karnéus
Gurnemanz: Brindley Sherratt
Amfortas: Robert Hayward
Klingsor: Eric Greene

Conductor: Richard Farnes
Director: PJ Harris

Mainstage performance diary

October – November 2021

All performances start at 7.00pm unless otherwise stated.

Leeds Grand Theatre
Sat 2 Oct Carmen
Sat 9 Oct 3pm Carmen
Sat 16 Oct Bernstein Double Bill
Tue 19 Oct Carmen
Wed 20 Oct Bernstein Double Bill
Thu 21 Oct Carmen
Fri 22 Oct Bernstein Double Bill
Sat 23 Oct Carmen
Thu 28 Oct Carmen
Fri 29 Oct Bernstein Double Bill
Sat 30 Oct Bernstein Double Bill

Dementia-friendly performance
Tue 26 Oct 1.30pm Carmen

Theatre Royal, Newcastle
Wed 3 Nov Carmen
Thu 4 Nov Bernstein Double Bill
Fri 5 Nov Carmen
Sat 6 Nov Bernstein Double Bill

The Lowry, Salford Quays
Wed 10 Nov Carmen
Thu 11 Nov Bernstein Double Bill
Fri 12 Nov Carmen
Sat 13 Nov Bernstein Double Bill

Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Wed 17 Nov Carmen
Thu 18 Nov Bernstein Double Bill
Fri 19 Nov Carmen
Sat 20 Nov Bernstein Double Bill

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
Sat 12 Feb Carmen
Tue 15 Feb Alcina
Wed 16 Feb Carmen
Thu 17 Feb Alcina
Fri 18 Feb Carmen
Sat 19 Feb Rigoletto

The Lowry, Salford Quays
Wed 9 Mar Rigoletto
Thu 10 Mar Carmen
Fri 11 Mar Alcina
Sat 12 Mar Rigoletto

Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Wed 16 Mar Rigoletto
Thu 17 Mar Alcina
Fri 18 Mar Carmen
Sat 19 Mar Rigoletto

Theatre Royal, Newcastle
Wed 23 Mar Rigoletto
Thu 24 Mar Alcina
Fri 25 Mar Carmen
Sat 26 Mar Rigoletto

Hull New Theatre
Thu 31 Mar Carmen
Fri 1 Apr Rigoletto
Sat 2 Apr Carmen

June 2022

All performances start at 4.00pm

Leeds Grand Theatre
Wed 1 Jun Parsifal
Sat 4 Jun Parsifal
Tue 7 Jun Parsifal
Fri 10 Jun Parsifal

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Sun 12 Jun Parsifal

Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Wed 15 Jun Parsifal

Sage Gateshead
Sat 18 Jun Parsifal

Royal Festival Hall, London
Sun 26 Jun Parsifal

Main image: Mezzo soprano Chrystal E. Williams who will be singing Carmen

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