As the Orchestra of Opera North prepares to perform Strauss’ Four Last Songs with guest soprano Francesca Chiejina at Huddersfield Town Hall in April, here are our top four reasons why securing a ticket is a must.

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1. Hear a composer's swansong

The Four Last Songs (Vier letzte Lieder) were genuinely the last compositions that composer Richard Strauss ever wrote. The original plan was to write a series of five, but the 84-year-old Strauss never completed the final one. It was his publisher who gave the quartet their evocative title after the composer’s death in 1949.

All four songs premiered at the Royal Albert Hall the following May. Since then, the work has won many fans for its thrilling combination of orchestral playing and the soprano voice. In Abendrot was used in the soundtrack of the 1982 film Year of Living Dangerously – while, in 2007, the full sequence provided the inspiration for the film titled Four Last Songs. The late musician David Bowie also cited it as one of his favourite works in an interview with Vanity Fair.

Richard Strauss c. 1936

2. Feel the love

The breathtakingly beautiful songs (Lieder) were inspired by Strauss’ wife, Pauline de Ahna, herself a successful soprano and for whom Strauss wrote over 200 Lieder during the course of his career. Since their premiere with the legendary Kirsten Flagstad, they’ve been performed by some of the world’s greatest sopranos, including Jessye Norman, Renee Fleming and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

Singing them at Huddersfield Town Hall will be the Nigerian-American soprano Francesca Chiejina, a graduate of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House. As The Guardian said after one of her recent performances: “With soprano Francesca Chiejina’s celestial voice suspended above the orchestra’s shimmering, mournful music, you might feel as if you’re transcending.”

Francesca Chiejina will join the Orchestra of Opera North to sing Mimi's arias from La bohème

3. Channel your inner poet

In the long tradition of setting literary works to music, Strauss took as his starting point a poem called In Abendrot (At Sunset) by Joseph von Eichendorff. It’s thought that this was the work which sparked the idea for the songs, with Strauss being particularly moved by the description of a couple in their final years contemplating a sunset together while reflecting on the end of their lives.

The other three songs take their words from a trio of poems by Hermann Hesse: Frühling (Spring), September and Beim Schlafengehen (Going to Sleep). Through the chosen poems, there is the sense of a man preparing to leave the world he loves, as he approaches the end of his life with calm acceptance.

Hermann Hesse - Dutch National Archives, The Hague

4. A perfect partnership

Paired with the Four Last Songs on this occasion will be Mahler’s First Symphony. According to Opera North Music Director, Garry Walker, who will be conducting the concert, the two make a perfect pairing:

“I cannot think of a programme which affirms life in such an incredible way, with one composer reflecting on the years that have passed and the other at the outset of his career. This is live music at its most compelling, its most evocative and, ultimately, its most rewarding, for performers and audiences alike. I urge everyone to come and join us for what will be a thrilling evening of music.”

Mahler & Strauss conducted by Garry Walker and with guest soprano Francesca Chiejina starts at 7.30pm at Huddersfield Town Hall on Thursday 11 April. Tickets from £13 with concessions available.

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