As we prepare to celebrate the year of our return to full-scale performance in Hull with Viennese Whirl in the City Hall on Friday 29 December, we look back on the last twelve months – and forward to lots more activity on Humberside in 2018.
Our traditional New Year concert of waltzes, polkas, marches and song will bring the curtain down on a spectacular twelve months on Humberside, with a sold-out concert staging of Puccini’s Turandot at Hull City Hall and the recent Little Greats season of short operas at the reopened Hull New Theatre among the highlights.
In April and May The Height of the Reeds, Opera North’s commission for Hull UK City of Culture 2017, transformed the Humber Bridge into a huge instrument, with field recordings by Jez riley French combined with the sounds of the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North, a trio of Norwegian musicians, poetry read by Hull’s own Maureen Lipman and Barrie Rutter, and narration by seven year-old Katie Smith, a pupil from Bude Park Primary School in Bransholme.
The epic ‘sound walk’ was fully booked for its duration, which was extended through June and July due to overwhelming demand. In November Jayne Selby's image of her son experiencing The Height of the Reeds was selected by photographer Martin Parr for first prize in the Hull Beermat Photography Festival, and her image can be seen on beermats in pubs, bars and clubs throughout the city in December.
June saw the premiere of Gavin Bryars’ Winestead, another Opera North commission for Hull UK City of Culture 2017, and the PRS Foundation New Music Biennial, in the 12th century Church of St Germain in the East Riding village of Winestead itself. Bryars, who was born in Goole, took inspiration for the 20-minute chamber work from the eerie landscape of Holderness and Spurn Point, and the life and work of the metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, who was born in the village rectory and is believed to have been christened in the church.
This year will also be remembered for the sad loss of one of our great champions in the region, the academic, publisher and philanthropist Professor Barrie Pettman, who passed away in June. Together with his wife Maureen, Professor Pettman was a founding Diamond Patron of the Company, and the couple, who lived in Patrington, funded the establishment of the Pettman DARE Fellowship in 2010. This unique programme, which gives talented young people an opportunity to combine work in Opera North’s Education department with postgraduate studies at the University of Leeds, will continue with the support of Mrs Pettman.
Opera North Education’s award-winning In Harmony community programme is getting underway for 2018 on the Thornton Estate, with a long-term arts participation project building on the legacy of the City of Culture. In partnership with The Goodwin Development Trust, weekly music-making and singing sessions for residents of all ages, family workshops and performances will support the development of a vibrant arts community on one of Hull’s largest and most diverse estates. We will also continue to deliver regular vocal activity in two partner schools on the Bransholme Estate, Bude Park Primary and Kingswood Parks Primary. From January this work will expand into a third school in Bransholme, Highlands Primary.
For the region’s very youngest music-lovers, we'll be bringing our popular Little Singers programme to the East Riding Theatre, Beverley, from 11 January. These fun, interactive weekly workshops offer tots and babies and their grown-ups a chance to explore music together in a friendly environment. For children aged 8 to 12, Opera North Children’s Chorus will be opening a Hull branch in collaboration with the University of Hull. Rehearsals will take place weekly on Tuesday nights at Middleton Hall, providing expert training and guidance to enable children to develop outstanding vocal technique and musicianship skills, whilst making new friends and nurturing a life-long love of singing.
Mainstage performances in Hull continue with the latest in our series of dramatic operas presented in concert, Richard Strauss’ wild, intense Salome, coming to Hull City Hall on Wednesday 16 May.
In the meantime, the Viennese Whirl promises a fitting farewell to the old year, with the Orchestra of Opera North performing the exuberant music of the Strauss family threaded through with ravishing arias from the operettas of Carl Zeller, sung by leading soprano and Opera North regular Jeni Bern.
The Orchestra of Opera North. Credit: Amy Charles
Maureen Pettman and Prof Barrie Pettman with Hedda Oosterhoff, the first Pettman DARE Scholar, 2009. Credit Malcolm Johnson