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International Women's Day 2020

Here at Opera North, we work with hundreds of talented women all across the Company at the top of their professional game.

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, we’ve picked just five of these fantastic women to tell us about their role, and what they love about working here…

Kate Freston-Davy

It was never my intention to work in opera, in fact I must admit that I had never even seen an opera before joining the Opera North stage management team 20 years ago. As Acting Head of Stage Management, I oversee rehearsals from the first day of production in the rehearsal room, the stage rehearsals and then performances in Leeds and on tour. The job requires patience, creativity, the ability to deal with many different personalities and a sense of humour.

The average day is never average, you can be running a rehearsal one minute and walking a role the next. The ability to play a dramatic death or a bridesmaid is a must for a member of any opera stage management team. The days may be long but the years have felt short. I have worked with such dedicated and talented people onstage, backstage and in the pit that the idea that I might have missed opera all together now seems unimaginable. For me it’s not all about the music, fabulous though it is; it is the camaraderie and friendship of Opera North that has enhanced my life, with some very good tunes along the way!

Kate Freston-Davy as Stage Manager during stage rehearsals for Kiss Me, Kate, 2018 © Tom Arber

Annette Saunders

There are many sides to my role as Assistant Head of Music – playing the piano, coaching, working with conductors and directors, listening to the overall sound and playing keyboard (piano, celeste, harpsichord, fortepiano and occasionally the organ) in the pit. The other part of my job includes having an overview of current coaching needs, and some scheduling and planning for the future.

My first opera here was Handel’s Radamisto twenty years ago this season. Since then I have done over fifty productions from Monteverdi to Cole Porter and was very happy to become full time in 2016. The Company fosters a lovely sense of extended family within all its different activities. I love working with so many highly talented and interesting colleagues and with so much varied repertoire that no two days are ever the same!

When I first started as a repetiteur in the nineties, it was possible to count the number of female reps on one hand – I was frequently the only female member of music staff! There are now many of us – also in management, which was unthinkable twenty years ago.

Annette Saunders in the orchestra pit © Opera North

Jessica Burroughs

I am Section Leader Cello of the Orchestra of Opera North, my official job title, and I’ve now been a member of the Company for eight years. I was introduced to Opera North in 1995, when I shadowed my then cello teacher on work experience during the recording of the ‘Something Wonderful’ CD with Bryn Terfel. The first time I worked with the Orchestra was in 2009 for the amazing production of Strauss’ Elektra.

Working with the members of my section is undoubtedly the most rewarding part of my job. I appreciate their unfailing kindness and loyalty, their creativity and dedication under all circumstances, no matter how challenging. They embody the standard of professionalism that should lie at the heart of every company.

Principal Cellist Jessica Burroughs in concert, 2018 © Justin Slee

Máire Flavin

I am a lyric soprano currently singing Countess Almaviva in this season’s The Marriage of Figaro. I made my Opera North debut in 2016 with Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte. From the very start this has been the most supportive company and it is one of my favourite places to work as a freelance soloist in the opera world.

By hiring me for Fiordiligi the Company was putting a stamp of approval on my move from a mezzo soprano up to soprano. The support continued when I arrived for my contract in 2018 to sing Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow and Anna Sørensen in Silent Night when I privately told Christine [Chibnall, Planning Director] that I was six weeks pregnant.

The Company were fabulous, supporting me in the workplace but also just allowing me to get on with my job. The best aspect about it was that knowing I was pregnant they heard me for, and cast me as, the Countess.  We were able to openly discuss what point after giving birth I wanted to come back and therefore what roles I could be considered for. Again, trust was placed in me to make sure I was vocally and physically ready, which is not always the case in the opera industry.

Máire Flavin as Anna Sørensen in Silent Night, 2018 © Tristram Kenton

Nicola Faulkner-Heath

I am a Wigs, Hair and Make-Up Assistant, and have been working with Opera North since September 1990! What I enjoy most about my job is the people I work with – the singers, who we work extremely closely with, are much more down to earth than people imagine, and as a Technical Department we are mostly long term members committed to the Company and our individual jobs.

The greatest thing about Opera North for me is the teamwork – we are all as important as each other in getting the finished product to the public. A huge accomplishment, every day, and one big family.

Nicola Faulkner Heath as make-up artist on Kiss Me, Kate, 2018 © Tom Arber


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