Opera North has announced the repertoire for its 2018 – 19 season, which will mark 40 years of inspiration, ambition and adventure since the Company was established as the opera company for the North of England, giving its first performance in November 1978.
Forty years on, November 2018 sees Opera North give the U.K. premiere of Silent Night, a Pulitzer Prize-winning opera by American composer Kevin Puts, based on the true story of the 1914 Christmas truce. Directed by Tim Albery, Silent Night will be performed in a concert staging at Leeds Town Hall, as part of a series of events planned in association with the newly renamed Leeds Playhouse and Leeds City Council commemorating the centenary of the end of WWI. The opera has received numerous performances in North America since its 2011 premiere, and Puts’ score has been praised as lyrical, cinematic and expressive; a richly textured and deeply affecting contemporary work.
Many other works within the season also explore themes around conflict both directly and symbolically: national identity, patriotism and emerging statehood; abuse, enslavement and exile; political and religious persecution; sacrifice and betrayal; the ending of old orders and the dawning of the new. And above all, conflict’s human face: the experiences and relationships between people caught in the tides of historical change, and the overriding power of hope.
The year opens with a new production of Tosca, directed by Edward Dick, which will tour alongside a revival of The Merry Widow, two works composed in the very earliest years of the 20th century, with Europe on the cusp of transformation.
A new production of The Magic Flute, directed by Leeds Playhouse Artistic Director James Brining, opens in January 2019, following his acclaimed Leeds Playhouse/Opera North co-production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. It will tour with three further works composed in the years around the First World War: a revival of Katya Kabanova, and a double-bill in which the worlds of opera and dance collide: with Puccini’s short comic opera Gianni Schicchi paired with Stravinsky’s iconic ballet, The Rite of Spring.
The Rite of Spring sees another of Leeds’ great arts organisations working in partnership with Opera North, in the Company’s first large scale collaboration with Phoenix Dance Theatre, the longest running contemporary dance ensemble outside London. A newly choreographed version of this era-defining work will be performed by Phoenix, with the full Orchestra of Opera North and conductor Garry Walker playing the unmistakable modernist score.
A dramatic concert staging of Aida concludes the year. Opening at Leeds Town Hall and touring to major concert venues throughout the country, this new production will be directed by Annabel Arden, whose award-winning Turandot for Opera North electrified audiences in 2017. For all its grandiosity and imperialism, at Aida’s heart is a web of intimate personal relationships between people caught in the crossfire of international conflict, ending with a profound prayer for peace.
Many of Leeds’ arts organisations will also collaborate in Autumn 2018 to commemorate the end of the First World War. Silent Night will be part of a strand of concerts at Leeds Town Hall including a concert based on Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, and a new WWI-themed commission by Will Todd for the young singers of the Opera North Children’s Chorus, Young Voices, and Youth Chorus.
A further new commission, Not Such Quiet Girls, will be co-produced by Opera North and Leeds Playhouse. Bringing together an all-female chorus of sung voices and three female actors, this new musical drama, written by Jessica Walker with musical arrangement by Joseph Atkins, weaves a moving narrative through staged scenes, film projections, music hall songs and forgotten rarities by early 20th century female composers, shining a light on some of the neglected women’s voices from the Great War. Not Such Quiet Girls will be performed at the Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, from 29 November to 1 December 2018.