As preparations continue apace for our first sustainable season, we turn the spotlight on the repurposed sets and props which audiences can look forward to seeing in Leeds and on tour.
“Sustainability isn’t something new for us”, says Production Office Co-ordinator Laura Hart. The Production team has already been at work for months, gathering props and materials from their base at Opera North’s vast Scenic Stores, a treasure trove of sets and costumes from the Company’s four decades of performances. “Nothing ever goes in the bin”, she insists. “We reuse almost everything as a matter of course, from the truck bases that move scenic elements around the stage, to steel tubing, to costumes and props”. Yet, she says, the Green Season has driven some fundamental changes in the way the team works.
Plundering the miles of shelves and boxed-up sets at the Stores has brought back memories for Set Designer Leslie Travers, an Opera North regular who is the man behind the settings of some of the Company’s most celebrated productions: “I love this history of the shows we’ve done together, and I’ve loved giving them another life for the Green Season”.
The objects and fixtures that he has selected, he says, will tell part of the Company’s story, as well as the narrative of each opera: “Falstaff, for example, features windows from Figaro which we’ve resized and adapted, the sky from Orpheus at the back, and there are shelves full of objects – reminiscent of the Stores – that frame and comment on the action, and reappear as elements in the sets of the other two operas.
“The object that I really love is our magnificent 1970s caravan, Falstaff’s home, which is then transformed into a theatre in Masque of Might”. One of the few elements that was newly acquired, it was sourced from The Myrtle Tavern in nearby Meanwood via a social media call. “It’s full of beautiful vintage features, and it turned out to be amazingly close to what Leslie had envisioned in his model of the set”, says Laura.
Antlers are another distinctive element in the Falstaff set. “Antlers are used to form a chandelier, an abstracted forest, an elaborate chair”, Leslie explains. “They’re absolutely beautiful as a material, and of course they’re a renewable resource: the deer at Harewood House shed them naturally each year, and they’ve been saved for us”.
Taking advantage of these local resources and talent has been one of the most important shifts in how the Production team works. Laura explains: “Where we’d usually have sets fabricated in Cardiff or London, we’ve been doing a lot of jobs on site here with local artisans. Other specialist work has been done at Ralph Tricker’s workshop in Mirfield; and Waterside Forge, a family-run fabricator in Bramley, built the movable trucks from recycled material. The fabric for the ‘rug’ in Falstaff was taken from the set of Katya Kabanova, resized in Bradford, the pattern for the stencil was cut in Northern Ballet’s workshop, and it’s being painted here by the artist Ali Allen, who’s based locally”.
Opera North’s Green Season opens at Leeds Grand Theatre with Falstaff on 28 September, followed by the world premiere of Masque of Might on 6 October, and Puccini’s La rondine on 20 October. All three productions will tour to Newcastle Theatre Royal, Theatre Royal, Nottingham, and The Lowry, Salford Quays.