In November 2018, Opera North celebrates its 40th birthday. To mark the occasion, we have compiled a whistle stop tour of the Company’s history – 40 years in 40 images.

Explore key moments from our first decade – 1978 to 1987…



A brand new production of Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila launched Opera North on 15 November 1978. The piece was chosen by Music Director David Lloyd-Jones because it had not been performed in the UK for 20 years. The opening performance was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and both the success of opening night and the emergence of the Company were referred to by the Press as ‘a near miracle’!

Samson et Dalila was directed by Patrick Libby, designed by John Stoddart and conducted by David Lloyd-Jones.

John Tranter as An Old Hebrew, Gilbert Py as Samson and Katherine Pring as Dalila in Samson et Dalila, 1978 © Forbes Henderson


Opera North’s first Tosca opened in November 1979, in a production by Andrew Wickes borrowed, as many early productions were, from sister company English National Opera. The central trio of performers – Elizabeth Vaughan (Tosca), Kenneth Collins (Cavaradossi) and Geoffrey Chard (Scarpia) – became great audience favourites.

The production was revived by Steven Pimlott, designed by Margaret Harris and conducted by David Lloyd-Jones.

Kenneth Collins as Cavaradossi and John Tranter as Angelotti in Tosca, 1979 © Terry Cryer


In only its second season, Opera North was venturing into unusual repertoire – something that the Company would become known for. A new production of Richard Rodney Bennett’s The Mines of Sulphurwhich opened in March 1980, is a perfect early example.

The production was conducted by Clive Timms, directed by Colin Graham and designed by Alix Stone.

Thomas Lawlor as Tovey, Robert Ferguson as Boconnion, Fiona Kimm as Rosalind, Eric Garrett as Sherrin and Mark Hamilton as Fenney in The Mines of Sulphur, 1980 © Terry Cryer


Patrick Libby’s new production of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex opened in March 1981, and was one of the most visually striking of Opera North’s early shows.

Oedipus Rex was designed by Stefanos Lazaridis and conducted by David Lloyd-Jones.

Oedipus Rex, 1981


In March 1982, Opera North first revived Staff Director Steven Pimlott’s production of Verdi’s Nabucco from the 1979-80 season. This production had real individuality and showed that the Company was beginning to speak with its own voice.

Nabucco was designed by Stefanos Lazaridis and conducted in 1982 by Elgar Howarth.

Nabucco, 1982


In October 1983, our very first commissioned work for the main stage was unveiled – Rebecca by composer Wilfred Josephs, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier.

Rebecca was conducted by David Lloyd-Jones, directed by Colin Graham and designed by Stefanos Lazaridis.

Gillian Sullivan as The Girl in Rebecca, 1983 © Asadour Guzelian


Graham Vick’s new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute in 1984 was the biggest technical challenge that Opera North had faced yet, with huge sets. It marked something of a coming-of-age for the Company, as staff realised that certain of their technical systems were out of date and no longer up to the task!

The Magic Flute was conducted by Peter Hirsch and designed by Russell Craig.

Jane Leslie Mackenzie as Pamina and Evelyn Nicholson as the Queen of the Night © Asadour Guzelian


A new production of Tippett’s rarely performed The Midsummer Marriage in the Autumn of 1985 marks a signifiant directorial debut, that of Tim Albery. Having marshalled the large forces required for this 20th Century masterpiece, Tim Albery has now gone on to direct over 20 different productions for Opera North!

The production was conduced by Peter Hirsch and designed by Tom Cairns and Antony McDonald.

Donald Stephenson as Mark (right) in The Midsummer Marriage, 1985


Our 1986/87 season opened with the first part of Berlioz’ unwieldily epic The Trojans: The Capture of Troy. This big, ambitious production (again by Tim Albery) was the Company’s biggest collaborative event up until that point, achieved by pooling the resources of Opera North, Scottish Opera and Welsh National Opera.

The production was conducted by David Lloyd-Jones and designed byTom Cairns and Antony McDonald.

Kristine Ciesinski as Cassandra, Ronald Hamilton as Aeneas, Richard Salter as Chorebus, Nicola Sharkey as Ascanius and John Cashmore as Pantheus in The Trojans: The Capture of Troy, 1986


In October 1987, soprano Dame Josephine Barstow made an acclaimed Opera North debut in a new production of Verdi’s Macbeth. Dame Jo has now gone on to sing many roles with us (including a landmark Queen Elizabeth I in Britten’s Gloriana) and has become an integral part of the Company’s history.

Macbeth was conducted by John Pryce Jones and directed by Ian Judge, with sets by John Gunter and costumes by Deirdre Clancy.

Dame Josephine Barstow as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, 1987

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