Opera North Blog

The Little Greats: Annabel Arden shares her thoughts


After her recent success with TurandotAnnabel Arden returns to Opera North in the Autumn to direct Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges and Janáček’s Osud, as part of The Little Greats season. We asked Annabel to give us an insight into what people can expect.

What do you think is the main attraction of The Little Greats?

There’s such variety in the world of opera and these six could not be more varied. There really is something for everyone: from the really experimental work of Janáček, to the fun and funny Gilbert and Sullivan, to the stylish, jazzy Bernstein, and the marvellous full-on emotion of Italian opera in Pagliacci and Cavalleria rusticana — not forgetting the magical world of Ravel's L’enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Magic Spells).

The Little Greats aren't stuffy and they aren't about big sets and costumes; what they are about is telling a story with music and moving our audience to tears — and laughter.

How do you approach directing an opera?

First I collaborate with a designer to create an entire visual world and a context. This often needs to be both realistic and symbolic, or at least able to represent the emotional world of the opera very strongly. Then you need to work with the singers so that they understand your vision and believe in what you’re saying. Singers are the only musicians who use language to express the music. A violin or flute has no words. When you’re able to embody the text through the music, then the physicality, relationships and possession of space become easier to articulate. 

This season is a big challenge but we do have a cast of amazing singers for all six operas and, of course, the great Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North.

L’enfant et les sortilèges is very eclectic in its musical styles and range of characters - why do you think it's so appealing?

At its heart is everyone’s story: how can we grow from being governed by our destructive primal child into a more mature, empathetic being; one who can admit their own mistakes and accept love? Ravel’s music is also astonishing in this work: comic, touching, romantic, jazzy, graphic and, at times, overwhelming. 

Osud is a rarely performed piece. What have you found most interesting about discovering it?

I didn’t know Osud and discovering it has been very exciting. The music is really beautiful and it takes us into the intense love story of an obsessive. Simultaneously, we feel the passage of time and a really strong sense of Czech culture. There's a kind of surrealism possible in this particular work, and we hope to have fun with that. It’s also full of wonderful song melodies and dance rhythms and is very modern as well as romantic. The drama of feelings is extreme — in fact, it often feels like a film.

During The Little Greats season, L’enfant et les sortilèges and Osud will be offered alongside four other short operas with huge emotions: Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury and Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti. The season opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on Saturday 16 September


Backstage on Trouble in Tahiti promotional photoshoot. Credit: Richard Moran
Costume designs for
L’enfant et les sortilèges by Hannah Clark

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