Opera North Blog

Jaguars and lorry lifts! Opera North moves up, in and on...


October 2014 sees the publication of Dr. Kara McKechnie's book on Opera North, the result of four years of research, published by Emerald. The study features over 100 illustrations and has three distinctive perspectives. The first and longest one documents company history from the first planning meetings in the 1970s to 2013. Here is an excerpt from 2006, when the company was able to move back into Leeds Grand Theatre after extensive renovation works:

Excerpt from Perspective 1:

Autumn 2006 marked a new beginning: the company moved back into extended and improved accommodation and settled into a newly renovated Grand Theatre. As this had been delayed, it was a challenging time for all technical departments. While the production rehearsal cycles ran in the company's established timeline, there was little time for staff to familiarise themselves with the new features and mechanisms, such as the lorry lift and the new flying system. The completion of Phase 1 of the Transformation Project was greeted with enthusiasm. Richard Farnes and the Orchestra of Opera North were delighted that the auditorium now had a wooden floor.

‘The Grand has always had difficult acoustics. I hope it will be easier for us to produce a warmer glow to the sound, particularly for the Puccini repertoire and the bigger orchestrations, where I feel we need a bigger, glowing quality to the bass sound’ (Richard Farnes)

Wagner, Otello and The Queen of Spades were all mentioned as future ambitious plans for the company. Opera North’s seasons ahead looked healthy at a time when both WNO and Scottish Opera had to impose damaging cuts. In mid-September 2006, the new rehearsal rooms at the back of Premier House, with the dimensions of the Grand Theatre stage, had been opened by the two gentlemen after whom they were named: Sir Gordon Linacre and Lord Harewood.

Sir Gordon and Lord Harewood, both accompanied by their wives, arrived in a Jaguar which was lifted up to the rehearsal rooms on the £750.000 scissor lift that will be used to lift articulated lorries carrying scenery up to the stage. Sir Gordon, President of Yorkshire Post Newspapers, joked that Lord Harewood asked him to be chairman because: ‘We had a boardroom we could use at the Yorkshire Post. We had a wonderful chef there who made fantastic scotch eggs which were a favourite of Lord Harewood’s’. 

Peter Grimes, the second new production of autumn 2006, was chosen as a showcase for the chorus and orchestra’s virtuosity and also brought Phyllida Lloyd back to the company to produce another Britten opera — Gloriana in 1993 had earned her plaudits as one of the finest directors of the composer's work. […] 

Photo Credit: Bill Cooper, Pictured: Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts (Peter Grimes) and Giselle Allen (Ellen Orford)

Critics, often divided, commented almost in unison that Grimes was ‘the highlight of the British operatic year’ and ‘the operatic event of the year’. Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts made a role debut that also attracted superlative rhetoric, Giselle Allen lending depth and gentleness to Ellen Orford. The acutely sketched characters of the borough (‘luxury cast’), the individual characters the Opera North Chorus contributed in the Boar Inn or the lynch mob scenes and the evocative realisation of the sea-infused score resulted in what was called ‘a collective triumph’. 

Opera North: Historical and Dramaturgical Perspectives on Opera Studies, by Dr Kara McKechnie, is published by Emerald in October 2014 (ISBN: 9781783505012). Priced at £49.95, it is available to order online via Emerald Books: http://books.emeraldinsight.com

To read excerpts from the book, view the table of contents and access the synopsis, visit www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/tk/opera

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