Opera North Blog

Winter 2018 at the Howard Assembly Room


As Christmas draws near and its gothic vaults are festooned with mistletoe and candles, the Howard Assembly Room announces its first season of 2018, boasting soul and jazz visionaries, an impressive line-up of roots music from either side of the Atlantic, a classical programme focusing on the light and spirit of Italy, and film screenings to complement Opera North’s mainstage Fatal Passions season.

Rated by Brian Eno as "perhaps the greatest drummer who ever lived", Tony Allen is an icon in the truest sense, and the elder statesman among an outstanding programme of jazz and soul. A founding father of Afrobeat as an original member of Fela Kuti’s Africa ’70 band, his trademark splicing of jazz, funk, highlife and Yoruba rhythms has influenced generations of musicians over the past five decades, and he continues to innovate with his new album, The Source.

Recorded live at the legendary Village Vanguard, the latest double album by Allen’s Blue Note labelmate Ambrose Akinmusire continues the trumpeter’s advancing of jazz in unexpected directions, equally at home guesting with Kendrick Lamar as he is pushing boundaries with his own longtime quartet.

Fast becoming Britain's foremost female jazz vocalist, Zara McFarlane deftly combines the intricacies of the genre with her Caribbean musical heritage and a deep sense of soul. Produced by drummer Moses Boyd, whose extraordinary duo Binker & Moses opened for The Bad Plus in the Howard Assembly Room last year, her third studio album Arise is set to be a treat in its live incarnation.

Away from her collaborations with the likes of Antony and the Johnsons, Rufus Wainwright, and Lou Reed, singer, songwriter, musician and producer Joan Wasser aka Joan As Police Woman has quietly built an outstanding catalogue of soulful contemporary song. She goes back to her roots with a laid-back set focusing on the piano, and her new album Damned Devotion.

The first female kora virtuoso to come from a West African Griot family, Sona Jobarteh brings together tradition and innovation to produce a truly distinctive new sound, drawing on her western classical training, formidable writing talents and a sensational voice.

Some of the most memorable acts ever to grace the Howard Assembly Room stage will be returning throughout 2018 as the venue looks forward to its 10th birthday at the end of the year. Celebrating a quintessentially Parisian tributary of jazz, famed French accordionist Richard Galliano is joined by master guitarist Sylvain Luc for A Tribute to Edith Piaf. Despite performing at half strength due to two members’ visa problems, Tuvan throat-singers Huun-Huur-Tu’s appearance two years ago remains seared into the memory of anyone who witnessed it. They return with their full complement of four virtuoso overtone singers and instrumentalists.

Led by the incomparable June Tabor, Quercus bring their effortless combination of jazz, folk and traditional song back to Leeds. Another familiar face, the award-winning folk singer and song collector Sam Lee returns for a concert with a difference, duetting live with nightingales via a live link-up as night falls. Two masters of Irish folk, The Gloaming’s Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, are back in a quartet with viola and bass clarinet to further their thrilling explorations of traditional music.

Roots music from across the Atlantic is represented by two impressive coups this season. The Handsome Family had been quietly refining their pitch black distillation of bluegrass, country and traditional murder ballads for over two decades when they were thrust blinking into the mainstream through the use of their magnificent Far From Any Road as the theme for HBO crime drama True Detective. Expect more spine-chilling tales of the Gothic West and the "madness brimming under the surface of things" from their visit. Another cult chronicler of the American hinterlands, former Richmond Fontaine frontman and acclaimed author Willy Vlautin presents a special evening of lyrical prose and literary song.

Libyan-American author Hisham Matar will discuss his own gripping true story of an unimaginable loss. His Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir The Return explores the kidnapping of his father during the Gaddafi regime, Hisham’s attempts to discover the truth about his fate, and to come to terms with the void that he left. Best-selling author, Guardian columnist and environmentalist George Monbiot returns with his latest book Out of the Wreckage, tracing the potential for inspiration and positive change amid the chaos of the contemporary world.

A trio of films pick up the themes and settings of Opera North’s mainstage Fatal Passions season. Ingmar Bergman’s late masterpiece Fanny and Alexander shares its Swedish setting with Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, but the political intrigues of the opera are exchanged for an equally gripping family saga: a rich, Dickensian tapestry suffused with mysticism. To complement Opera North's Don Giovanni and as part of LGBT History Month, Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother is a celebration of female companionship and sisterhood and an exploration of performance, on stage and in everyday life. Accompanying Madama Butterfly on the mainstage, Kurosawa’s last major epic, Ran (3 March) is the great Japanese director’s adaptation of King Lear, screened with a live mini-concert of flute music by Toru Takemitsu, the film’s composer.

Also inspired by Butterfly, younger audiences and their families can experience The Kingdom Under the Sea, a music and storytelling performance for families featuring thrilling Japanese folk stories. Taking a lead from Don Giovanni, the interactive concert Little Spring Sing offers a musical trip to Spain, and there are welcome returns for the popular Monday Bring-Along-A-Baby Choir and Little Singers sessions, and the Little Listeners concert.

The Oscar-winning ballad Moon River is at the heart of an evening of live song and classic film for Valentine’s Day. A twilight concert of classics from the American Songbook starts the evening with a swing, before Audrey Hepburn returns to the big screen in her unforgettable incarnation of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

As spring approaches, a series of chamber concerts brings the spirit of Italy to Leeds, beginning with Venezia e Napoli, a sparkling programme of Fauré, Poulenc and Liszt by the celebrated French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie, powerfully evocative of place and mood. Howard Assembly Room favourites the Brodsky Quartet return with an Italian-flavoured programme featuring Verdi’s only significant chamber work, the String Quartet in E Minor, Puccini’s Crisantemi, and Wolf’s Italian Serenade. Following their magical Opera North production for Christmas 2012, The Little Match Girl Passion, leading vocal ensemble I Fagiolini perform a passionate Easter offering including Monteverdi’s moving Lagrime d’amante al sepolcro dell’amata.One of the world's foremost lyric sopranos, Christiane Karg is joined by Joseph Middleton for the Howard Assembly Room’s next concert in collaboration with Leeds Lieder, combining Debussy's settings of the symbolist poets Verlaine and Baudelaire with Wagner's impassioned Wesendonck Lieder. Romantic song returns to the venue with a programme of Schubert, Purcell, Schumann and Vaughan Williams from tenor James Gilchrist, in his long-running partnership with pianist Anna Tilbrook.

Image: Huun-Huur-Tu

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