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Richard Mantle to retire next year

Opera North announces today that Richard Mantle OBE DL has indicated his intention to retire as General Director next year after almost 30 years leading the Company to great success. He will leave the Company with our enormous gratitude and good wishes.

Richard joined Opera North, one of the UK’s leading arts organisations, in 1994, following previous roles as Managing Director at Edmonton Opera in Canada, at Scottish Opera, and as Deputy Managing Director at English National Opera. He was awarded an OBE in June 2013 for services to music, is a Deputy Lieutenant of West Yorkshire, and holds honorary doctorates from both the University of Leeds and the University of York.

Based in Leeds, Opera North’s award-winning productions tour the north of England and beyond. Under Richard’s leadership, the Company has been widely admired for its adventurous and bold creative spirit, for its commitment to musical and theatrical excellence, and for creating extraordinary experiences for audiences and participants.

Richard’s tenure at Opera North has seen the Company transform into a complex, multifaceted arts organisation ready to meet 21st century challenges, delivering large-scale touring opera and a symphonic concerts programme as well the eclectic music, talks and film programme of the 300-seat Howard Assembly Room in Leeds. A wide-ranging education and community partnerships programme bringing music and arts participation into many thousands of people’s lives each year. Opera North is also a Theatre of Sanctuary and a leader in sustainability in the arts.

Richard led two significant capital developments of Opera North’s estate, including the Transformation programme which created purpose-built rehearsal facilities and led to the opening of the Howard Assembly Room in 2009, and the recent Music Works project to create additional rehearsal space for the Orchestra and Chorus, dedicated Education studios, and improved front of house facilities for the Howard Assembly Room, including Kino, a new restaurant and bar on New Briggate which opened in 2022.

Richard Mantle, General Director, Opera North

Richard Mantle, General Director, Opera North said:

“A little over two years ago before Covid intervened, I had been considering the possibility of retiring though I was keen to see the completion of our ambitious Music Works project and to welcome Garry Walker as our new Music Director.

Opera North has now come through the considerable challenges of the pandemic intact and in good shape. We have completed a full season of opera and music, culminating in the incredible experience of Parsifal, we have finally completed Music Works, and we are delighted that Garry Walker has relocated to the UK and joined us here in Leeds as Music Director.

Having discussed this at length with our Chair, Paul Lee, we have agreed that now is the time to instigate a process to identify and appoint my successor. I anticipate that I will step down at the end of 2023; the exact date will be flexible depending on the appointment of a new General Director.

I have led Opera North for almost 30 years, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have held one of the best opera jobs in the UK and further afield, and to have worked with so many talented, valued and inspiring colleagues. It has been a hugely fulfilling experience.

Now is a good time for a younger person to lead the team at Opera North, who will bring fresh ideas and articulate a new strategy for the Company over the decade ahead.

We have emerged from one of the most testing periods in the Company’s life with a great deal of hope and ambition for the future, though it will not be without its challenges given current economic vicissitudes. I am extremely confident and optimistic that a new General Director, ably supported by an exceptional Senior Management Team and encouraged by a great Board of Trustees will take the Company forward. Opera North is an unbeatable crucible of talent and creativity and long may it continue.”

Paul Lee, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Opera North, comments:

“Richard will be stepping down after an unparalleled 29 years in post. He leaves an organisation that is radically different to the one he joined in 1994 – one which is immeasurably stronger and more diverse in its activities and the people it serves. The many notable achievements of his tenure include the transformation of the Company’s home base in Leeds, including the restoration of the Howard Assembly Room in 2009 and the opening of the Howard Opera Centre last year; a vast expansion of Opera North’s educational activities; and signature artistic achievements such as the 8 Little Greats season in 2004, the Festival of Britten in 2013, and the complete Ring cycle in 2016, to name but a few.

He has remained unshakeable in his conviction that these achievements are founded on the core artistic resources of the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North, whose exceptional musical talents have been matched by an increasing flexibility and adaptability in response to an ever-evolving cultural landscape.

Richard would be the first to stress that the achievements of the Company are indeed company achievements, not attributable to a single individual; but it is his leadership that has shaped Opera North’s character, which he once described as a ‘blend of vision, talent, courage and resourcefulness’ – words that could be applied equally well to Richard himself.

Of course, there have been major challenges over the past three decades as the Company has become larger and more complex and taken possession of its own estate. But through it all – the artistic triumphs and (remarkably rare) disasters, the endless bids for funding, an economic crash, a global pandemic – Richard has led Opera North with integrity, prodigious energy, resilience, an uncompromising pursuit of excellence, and not least, great good humour.

All of us who have worked with Richard over the years will feel a profound sense of gratitude for his immense service to the Company’s staff and the countless guest artists whose careers Opera North has done so much to nurture and develop, and, above all, audiences and communities throughout the North and beyond.”

The process to recruit a new General Director for Opera North will now begin in earnest.


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