We are delighted to announce Switch ON; a programme of new outdoor events and digital projects taking place this Autumn, embodying Opera North’s commitment to make music with and for audiences in communities across the North.

The activity respects the latest government guidelines on social distancing and live performances, which are not currently permitted to take place indoors. Activities will include:

As You Are, a new soundwalk for Leeds by South African cellist and composer Abel Selaocoe;
Song of Our Heartland, the digital premiere of Will Todd’s new community opera;
La petite bohème, a new animation to be shown in cities across the North;
Whistle Stop Opera: Hansel and Gretel, an outdoor tour for family audiences.

Presented by the broadcaster and writer Suzy Klein, a preview of the season, Switch ON: Live from Leeds, will be available via Opera North and OperaVision’s YouTube channels on Wednesday 30 September from 7pm.

As You Are: A Soundwalk for Leeds

14 November 2020 – 6 January 2021

A new interactive soundwalk is being composed by South African cellist Abel Selaocoe which will invite people to experience Opera North’s home city of Leeds in a very different way to usual. It will take in many of the city centre’s most recognisable landmarks, as well as its arcades and side streets and the waterfront of the River Aire. Small groups will be given a set of headphones connected to a wireless receiver, triggering new musical chapters at different points on the walk.

At times uplifting with full orchestra and chorus, at others reflective with just a single voice, As You Are embraces the healing power of walking and expresses acceptance that there will sometimes be difficult times, but that we will come through to the other side. For the recording, Abel Selaocoe will be joined by guest African musicians including Sidiki Dembele, as well as the full Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North.

Tickets will go on sale in September. Supported by Victoria Leeds.

The Height of the Reeds soundwalk on the Humber Bridge, Hull, 2017

Whistle Stop Opera: Hansel and Gretel

18 August – 5 September 2020

Devised by John Savournin for four singers and accordion, Whistle Stop Opera: Hansel and Gretel is the perfect introduction to opera for all the family. This 40-minute performance uses excerpts from Humperdinck’s magical opera to retell the fairy tale of two hungry children, lost in the woods, and a gingerbread cottage that hides a scary secret…

Whistle Stop Opera: Hansel and Gretel will be performed in a range of outdoor settings across the North during August and September, with social distancing in place for audience members and performers, and limited numbers of tickets on sale in accordance with Covid-19 guidelines. Joining John Savournin as Narrator/Sandman will be Laura Kelly-McInroy as Hansel, Jennifer Clark as Gretel, Claire Pascoe as Mother/Witch, with Miloš Milivojević on accordion.

Supported by Brewin Dolphin.

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Whistle Stop Opera: Hansel and Gretel returns this month

La petite bohème: Animation

Dates and locations will be announced as soon as possible.

An animation re-imagining Act III of Puccini’s La bohème, snipped from black paper and animated by artist and filmmaker Matthew Robins with his unique eye for emotion and humour. The heartbreaking scene from the core of Puccini’s classic opera will feature a newly recorded soundtrack by the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North, and four soloists.

The finished animation will be projected outdoors onto walls in found spaces in towns and cities across the North of England, with limited audiences at each screening listening via headphones.

Matthew Robins with The Little Match Girl designed for Opera North in 2012

Song of Our Heartland: Community Opera

Written by Durham-born composer Will Todd, with a storyline by Caroline Clegg and libretto by Emma Jenkins, Song of Our Heartland was commissioned by Northern Heartlands, the Great Place Scheme for County Durham, and developed in partnership with members of local communities. It was originally due to premiere at Locomotion in Shildon in May but is now being created digitally, with different elements recorded separately under social distancing guidelines and pieced together as a 60-minute film for release in October.

Set in a town marked by declining local industry and loss of civic spaces, Song of Our Heartland is both a love letter to the landscape, heritage and people of the area, and an act of storytelling by three generations of indomitable women. It will be filmed on location at Locomotion and the surrounding area and recorded by the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North and the newly formed Community Chorus, with solo roles shared between members of the Chorus of Opera North and community participants.

Community rehearsals for Song of our Heartland

Richard Mantle, General Director:

We are extremely pleased to be able to announce such varied projects today as the first newly planned activity for this Autumn. Switch ON is our first step back to sharing music and performance with audiences in villages, towns and cities across the North of England. The overall picture regarding live indoor performances remains unclear over the next few months. We hope to be able to plan and present more live performances of great opera and music for audiences across our region, in as many different cities and communities as possible, once we are able to perform within social distancing guidelines. We are currently undertaking detailed planning with our partner venues in Leeds and beyond to ensure that we will be ready to restart performances safely and with financial viability, once there is a clear green light from the Government.

“Tickets for Switch ON events will all be accessibly priced and we hope as many people as possible will have the opportunity to experience music with us either live or digitally. We are a partner in Leeds Says Thanks, an initiative by Leeds City Council to thank NHS and frontline workers for their enormous efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic; as part of this, we will ensure that tickets to As You Are, our soundwalk for Leeds, will be made available to frontline staff.

“We remain committed to our purpose and 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.”

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