Arts organisations, museums, local councils, historians and volunteers will come together to remember the sacrifice made by so many men and women during the First World War. With collaboration, community involvement and the development of young artists at its centre, the citywide programme will take in symphonic concerts, opera, music theatre, new media and exhibitions.
Marking the centenary of both the cessation of hostilities and the formation of the Royal Air Force, the Orchestra of Opera North performs Carl Davis CBE’s live soundtrack for the barnstorming 1927 silent film Wings on 18 October at Huddersfield Town Hall, conducted by the composer himself. Winner of the first Academy Award for Best Picture, Wings was directed by veteran combat pilot William Wellman, and its white-knuckle dogfighting sequences – filmed from planes flown by the actors themselves – are further animated by Davis’s dramatic 1993 score.
From 30 November, Leeds Town Hall hosts the UK première of Silent Night, the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera by Kevin Puts. A lyrical, cinematic telling of the true story of the 1914 Christmas truce, when peace spontaneously broke out between French, German and Scottish troops in the trenches, our concert staging features an international cast, the full Orchestra of Opera North and an expanded men’s Chorus, joined by a specially-recruited male community chorus, young singers from the Opera North Youth Chorus, and students from the Royal Northern College of Music.
Former Music Director of Opera North Richard Farnes returns to conduct our Orchestra, Youth Chorus, Young Voices and Children’s Chorus in the world premiere of Will Todd’s Songs of Love and Battle at Huddersfield Town Hall on 22 November (repeated at Leeds Town Hall on 1 December). Todd’s micro-opera, commissioned for Opera North’s youth ensembles, depicts the conflicting emotions of war through the words and poems of Maggie Gottlieb. Picking up the themes of loss and separation caused by conflict, Górecki’s breathtaking Third Symphony, the ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ follows, with the Orchestra joined by soprano Fflur Wyn and baritone Johnny Herford.
The Orchestra of Opera North returns to Leeds Town Hall for another large-scale collaboration on 25 November, joined by St Peter’s Singers and Sir Michael Morpurgo for War Horse: The Story in Concert. The former Children’s Laureate narrates his emotionally-charged story of a young farm horse who is taken from the calm of the English countryside and thrust into the horrors of the Western Front. Adrian Sutton’s acclaimed score, composed originally for the National Theatre’s Olivier and Tony Award-winning stage adaptation, is performed alongside hand-drawn visuals to illustrate the story.
Not Such Quiet Girls, an Opera North and Leeds Playhouse co-production telling the extraordinary untold stories of women who volunteered on the front line, premières at the Howard Assembly Room on 29 November. Inspired by the lives and works of Radclyffe Hall, Olive Mudie-Cooke and others, writer Jessica Walker and director Jacqui Honess-Martin weave a moving narrative through staged scenes, film projections, music hall songs and forgotten rarities by early-20th century female composers.
Also in the Howard Assembly Room, two chamber concerts weave together the songs of the period to bring the personal and historical narratives of the War to life. On 22 November Leeds Lieder Director Joseph Middleton joins internationally-acclaimed British baritone Christopher Maltman to chart the soldier’s odyssey from home into battle, and his death and epitaph, through songs by Butterworth, Gurney and Finzi, and works by composers from the other major nations involved in the War including Mahler, Mussorgsky and Schumann, in From Severn to Somme.
This year’s visit from the young artists of the National Opera Studio (8 December) takes the form of a beautifully staged passage from the gaiety of pre-war Europe to the apocalyptic impact of the war’s outbreak and beyond, devised and directed by Tim Albery.
For more information and booking, follow the links above. You can find full listings for performances, talks, events and exhibitions on Leeds City Council’s dedicated Armistice 100 listings pages.