An update from Richard Mantle, General Director

At Opera North we are now moving to a new phase of responding to the COVID crisis, as we look to the future.

The past weeks have been dominated by responding to the immediate fallout of this situation and readying ourselves to weather the long-term financial impact that we know is coming. We are incredibly grateful to you: our supporters, funders and audiences, who have stood by us in this uncertain time.

As we look ahead, it is important that we ask ourselves a simple question: what do we stand for?  If we are to survive, adapt and flourish, we need to be clear what this Company exists to do.  The answer we have come back to is simple.

To create extraordinary experiences. Every day.

Whatever challenges we face, Opera North will continue to use music to create extraordinary experiences every day for and with the communities we serve. Live or digitally, in classrooms, theatres, homes and public spaces; we will continue to share music with people of all ages and backgrounds. To ensure we stay true to this very simple core purpose, we have set out our key priorities. I wanted to share these with you; to outline the work we have delivered over the recent weeks and set out our intentions for the future.

We will be for everyone

Currently we still hope and plan to return to theatres with our scheduled main stage opera later this year, but we are monitoring the developing situation and making plans to ensure that – whatever happens – we will make live music in towns and cities across the North in 2020.

In the meantime, without live performance, we have shifted our focus online to maintain a link with audiences and to connect with people at home. From making full length opera available to watch online for free, including the Ring cycle, The Turn of the Screw and Trouble in Tahiti, to creative digital content on social media, including our orchestra’s refusal to be silenced in the creation of 2020: An Isolation Odyssey; all this and more has been enjoyed by people in the North, across the UK and around the world. We are delighted this week also to announce a new Opera North commission for BBC Arts and Arts Council England’s Culture in Quarantine programme: Walking Home: Sound Journeys for Lockdown.

We will be rooted in our communities

Making and experiencing music is an important part of many people’s lives.  As well as sharing performances digitally, we have moved Sing ON, our weekly singing classes for the over 55s, to sessions delivered online, ensuring the continuation of vital social interaction. In the coming weeks, we will open our weekly online singing classes to new participants of all ages, and talk to our communities about what else we can do to support them.

We are keeping in touch with and supporting the 100 community groups in our Encore Scheme and individuals in our Bravo Club, have plans to mark Refugee Week in mid-June, and through Arts Together, the city-wide community network managed by Opera North, we are sending out creative activities that people can enjoy at home. Our impact in communities goes beyond music, and our Costume department have turned their skills to making masks and scrubs for the NHS, whilst many of our furloughed staff have volunteered to help a range of other organisations.

We will enhance education

Our In Harmony team continues to deliver music education for the children in our five partner schools in Leeds, creating resources to ensure music remains an integral part of their daily lives. We believe creativity in the curriculum will be more important than ever in helping to shape young people’s lives and, as schools re-open, we will work with teachers across the North to find new ways of providing music as part of every child’s education.

In Harmony Opera North at New Bewerley Primary School. Photo: Tom Arber

We will build resilience

We have furloughed 75% of our workforce, including our orchestra, chorus and technical crew, and much of our focus has been on ensuring the Company’s financial resilience. There are serious economic challenges to be faced, especially in the medium to long term as the impacts of this crisis reverberate through the economy.

Our capital redevelopment project Music Works is again underway yet we still need to raise the final funds required to complete it.  More than ever, Music Works will play a transformational role in enabling the Company to emerge from lockdown as we build back better. We have not launched a crisis fundraising appeal but the time will soon come when we will need to ask our friends and those who value the impact of the work we make, to support us in this effort.

We will invest in our people

If Opera North is to adapt and thrive, it will be through the skill and expertise of the people who make up this Company: our musicians, craftspeople and administrators. We are working tirelessly to ensure this group is preserved, but we recognise our workforce must adapt and be flexible, learning new skills as we discover different ways of making and sharing music with our audiences.

The Chorus of Opera North and Company of Street Scene © Clive Barda

We will work in partnership

We do not face this challenge alone and will support our community of freelance artists, honouring contracts for cancelled work where we can and acting with kindness in recognition of the uncertain future they face. We know we are stronger through partnership, and we are already planning with peers across the strong network of cultural organisations in Leeds how we might collaborate in these extraordinary times. With the University of Leeds and Leeds College of Music, we will bring public lectures online and ensure students continue to have access to learning opportunities with our artists.

We are working with our partners at all of the theatres and venues in which we regularly perform, in order to understand the challenges we will need to overcome together and to ensure the continued safety and wellbeing of our audiences, performers, technical crew and staff. With our peers, we will use culture to help our home city and touring regions, and their communities, to emerge from this crisis stronger and more united.

What next?

We are intent that whatever restrictions we must overcome we will soon return to making live music. We are creative at our core and we will find a way for music to be shared.

But as we plan, we want to ask you, our audience a question. We believe that in music we can all find limitless inspiration and as we plan for the future, we are asking you what you will look for in music. Will you seek escapism, space for reflection, entertainment, inspiration, education or catharsis?

We would be grateful if you could complete this short, two-question survey and share one piece of music with us that you are listening to now or cannot wait to hear played live soon. In recent weeks, I and a number of my colleagues have been sharing our own selections of Isolation Arias. We would like to offer this chance to you, our audiences, to do the same.

Take our short survey


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