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Other voices, telling other stories: our new Academic in Residence

Opera North today announces Professor Edward Venn of the School of Music, University of Leeds, as its new Academic in Residence.

He will spend a year at the Company bringing together diverse voices from all areas of the performing arts and academia for a series of discussions, events and an exhibition focusing on race, ethics and representation in operatic storytelling.

Professor Edward Venn, Opera North's Academic in Residence 2022-23 Ⓒ University of Leeds

Telling Operatic Stories, Thu 6 Oct

Part of our DARE collaboration with the University, Professor Venn’s programme of activity begins on Thursday 6 October with a webinar, Telling Operatic Stories: Race, Ethics and Authenticity, as part of Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute’s Sadler Series.

Open to all and including a public Q&A, the Zoom event from 4.30pm – 6.00pm will shape the course of five further seminars in the Series examining opera’s often unedifying historical attitudes to non-western or minority cultures.

The panel includes musicologist and cultural historian Assistant Professor Imani Mosley (School of Music, University of Florida), Matthew Kofi Waldren, conductor and co-founder of Your Turn Collective, which works in support of classical music creators from under-represented backgrounds, and academics from across the University of Leeds.

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The seminars will explore issues of race and ethics in opera, looking particularly at Opera North productions past, present and future. Embedded in the Company’s rehearsals and day-to-day activity, Professor Venn hopes to bring theory and practice together to look at how the industry can move forward to give its stages to “other voices, telling other stories”.

The conclusion of his tenure will coincide with our production of The Pearl Fishers, Bizet’s 1863 opera featuring one of the best-loved duets in the canon, in an exoticised ancient Sri Lankan setting that presents difficulties for contemporary productions.

As part of a series of events presented alongside the opera – which will be conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren – Professor Venn will curate an exhibition at the University of Leeds’ Brotherton Gallery. Venturing into the Opera North archive, he will examine how the Company has engaged with issues of race and representation over the course of its four-decade history.

Over the past few weeks, he has been sitting in on rehearsals for Orpheus: Monteverdi Reimagined, Opera North and South Asian Arts-uk’s new take on the seminal 1607 opera that weaves together Indian classical and western baroque music.

Professor Edward Venn, Academic in Residence, Opera North, comments:

“The opportunity to attend rehearsals and model showings for Orpheus has given me a wonderful insight into the creative thinking behind this adaption of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. In particular, co-Music Directors Jasdeep Singh Degun and Laurence Cummings’ bringing together of their respective traditions has resulted in the cast and musicians having to confront and experience two very different musical practices. Understanding the challenges that singers and instrumentalists alike have overcome in their encounters with a different tradition, and seeing how this gives rise to authentic performances, has been truly revelatory.”

After Orpheus, After Monteverdi, Fri 21 Oct

Orpheus will be the subject of Professor Venn’s second event, an in-person workshop in the Howard Opera Centre, Leeds on Friday 21 October (5.30pm – 7.00pm). Guests, including Jasdeep and CEO and Artistic Director of South Asian Arts-uk, Keranjeet Kaur Virdee, will convene to explore how opera can imaginatively and innovatively bring together different traditions, myths, story-telling techniques and musics, with a pre-recorded contribution from Indian-born, Australian-based Carnatic singer Charulatha Mani.

Free tickets

Professor Venn’s progress can be followed via the project Twitter account, @operaticstories, his personal account @venn_ed, and Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute.


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