Everything you need to know about this Baroque bonanza, a new work created from the music of Henry Purcell —  right here!

What is the story?

Masque of Might is a biting satire filled with eccentric, extravagant characters. It begins with the birth of a horrendous ruler, Diktat, who imprisons and tortures his subjects while also wreaking havoc on the environment.

But slowly, nature fights back, trees and animals begin to talk, and Diktat is driven mad. Desperate to see into the future, he visits a Seer, who reveals to him through a biblical vision of King Saul and the Witch of Endor that his days are numbered.

As Diktat’s power vanishes, the earth can at last begin to heal…

Read full synopsis 

Callum Thorpe as Diktat, Matthew Brook as Samuel and Xavier Hetherington as Seer/Saul © James Glossop

What is the music like?

This music is from the Baroque era (c. 1600-1750), so the orchestra features early instruments including harpsicord, recorder, viola da gamba and theorbo (a large lute), which all help create a very distinctive sound world. Highlights include:

— ‘Sound the trumpet’, a joyful duet for two countertenor voices (sung by the characters Tousel Blond and Strumpet Ginger) which interweave and imitate a trumpet fanfare — it’s the most famous movement from Purcell’s 1694 Ode for Queen Mary’s Birthday.

— Elena’s ‘O let me weep’, originally from Purcell’s The Fairy Queen (based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), spellbinding, mournful and reminiscent of the famous Dido’s Lament

— The gripping Witch of Endor scene ‘In guilty night‘, originally sacred music. It’s one of Purcell’s greatest creations and rarely heard in a theatre context.

Who are the characters?

Masque of Might is written for seven principal singers (a soprano, two countertenors, a tenor and three basses), most of whom play multiple characters in the story. These include:

Diktat — a tyrant
Elena and Nebulous — two powerful beings
Tousel Blond and Strumpet Ginger — two sycophants
Activist and Sceptic — two conspirators
Wolf and Fox — two creatures
Seer — a fortune teller
Witch of Endor, King Saul and Prophet Samuel — characters in the vision shown to Diktat

There are also 24 chorus members and four dancers. This piece is “true to the spirit of a masque, which is basically a 17th Century variety show, an entertainment linking a sequence of show-off arias for singers and dancers” — director Sir David Pountney

Anna Dennis as Elena and Andri Björn Róbertsson as Nebulous © James Glossop

How did the opera come together?

Masque of Might is a ‘juke box opera’. The score is a patchwork of pieces by 17th Century composer Henry Purcell — from rarely-heard sacred music to arias from his semi-operas The Tempest, The Fairy Queen and more.

The numbers have been skilfully assembled by Sir David Pountney to tell the opera’s story. As the libretti (words) for so many works at the time of Purcell talk about nature, Sir David has been able to keep almost all of the original text:

“I just listened to the material and let the story emerge. One of the things that made an impression was the fantastic amount of apocalyptic language that was fashionable at the time: effluent poisoning the rivers, corpses rotting, glaciers melting — it’s all there already in the 17th Century!”

Jonny Aubrey-Bentley, Rose Ellen Lewis, Ruby Portus and Ben Yorke-Griffiths as the Masque of Might dancers © James Glossop

What is this production like?

Masque of Might is part of our Green Season of sustainable operas — everything you see on stage has had a previous life, often in another Opera North production, and is being reinvented to create a visually spectacular world for this piece.

Diktat’s towering throne has been made from existing chairs cunningly welded together, and look out for a bed (which once appeared in our production of Otello) now plastered in takeaway cups!

Costumes, designed by Marie-Jeanne Lecca, are as extravagant as the characters. A highlight is the Witch of Endor’s dress, which is sewn together from scraps of salvaged black fabric, and adorned with painted plastic bottles, wooden forks and more.

See photos »

Who was the composer?

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) is, to this day, one of the greatest English composers. His earliest identified work is an ode for the King’s birthday, written when he was eleven!

Much of Purcell’s work is sacred music (written for the church) and odes for the Royal Court, but he also has a close connection to theatre. He wrote several semi-operas, a genre somewhere between drama and opera where the action moved in dialogue and related songs were sung ‘for’ the principal actors by singers. His most famous piece is the opera Dido and Aeneas, still today the most frequently performed English opera worldwide.

Henry Purcell by John Closterman, c. 1695

Masque of Might is sung in English with English titles and last approximately 2 hours 30 minutes.

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