Opera North’s Encore Plus Partners benefit from increased access to the Company’s work, including opera, live performance and workshops both on and off the stage. This month, we welcome six new partners for 2023.
Bradford Study Support Network promotes social inclusion and learning across all ages and abilities; Burmantofts Senior Action runs a programme of activities to reduce isolation among older residents; Hyde Park Source enhances people’s health and wellbeing by improving the local environment; and St. Vincent’s Centre is dedicated to changing lives through advice, support, education and community.
As part of our responsibility as a Theatre of Sanctuary, we also look forward to working with Leeds Refugee Forum which helps refugees and asylum seekers in the city to rebuild their lives; and Solace which provides mental health and wellbeing support for those with experience of exile and persecution.
Being an Encore Plus Partner opens up a wealth of opportunities for groups to engage more creatively with the Company’s work. One example is a co-production last year which saw Opera North working with Pyramid of Arts and their High Rise Group, a band for musicians with profound and multiple learning difficulties.
It all began with a workshop delivered by Community Partnerships Manager, Zoe Scott FitzGibbon, who guided the participants through the storyline of Verdi’s La traviata using photographs, props and some of the fabrics being used to create the costumes. The retelling was interspersed with musical excerpts from the opera performed by soprano Aimée Fisk and tenor Lawrence Thackeray including the well-known drinking song ‘Brindisi’ and the hymn to freedom ‘Sempre Libera’.
Members of the group subsequently came to the Company’s Relaxed performance of La traviata in October which was held especially for those requiring a more informal theatre experience. They were also offered a backstage tour of the Leeds Grand Theatre giving them the chance to check out the technical equipment, see the musical instruments and costumes, and step out under the spotlights to get a sense of how a performer feels as they prepare to sing their first note.
Inspired by the workshop, tour and performance, the High Rise group reinterpreted Verdi’s work in their own unique style, creating an imaginatively staged mini-opera. Picking up on some of the themes in La traviata, the new piece explored the experiences of a man returning from war only to discover his sweetheart has forsaken him for another lover. The community co-production was given its premiere in the Howard Assembly Room before an invited audience.
Aimée Fisk with members of Pyramid of Arts at the Encore Plus Party © Tom Arber
Aimée Fisk joined the group again for the emotionally-charged event:
“What an amazing response to La traviata! It has been incredible to get involved with Pyramid, first in their home setting and then to see the final product showcasing their amazing talent and creativity. It’s really empowering to see in action how music can bring people together and the incredible and inventive reaction to Verdi’s music and drama. The whole event was a huge musical hug between performers and audience alike!”
The group were equally delighted:
“Right from the outset, the whole project was fantastic. The visit with the performers was a great experience of music and multi-sensory storytelling which included everyone really well, the trip to the theatre was awesome and, on the performance day, everyone was made to feel like a star. It was so nice to be able to offer this to group members.”
– Seb Munday, Pyramid of Arts
Encore Plus Partners are chosen from the Encore scheme for community groups and organisations working with individuals who experience barriers that prevent them from accessing Opera North’s work.