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Waltzing in the New Year with Máire and Nil

Celebrating our return to full-scale live performance and seeing out a difficult year with high hopes for the next, the Orchestra of Opera North will be joined by Italian-Turkish conductor Nil Venditti and Irish soprano Máire Flavin for Viennese Whirl concerts in Huddersfield Town Hall (30 December) and Hull City Hall (31 December).

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Nil, who makes her Opera North debut at the concerts, conducted the Netherlands Philharmonic’s streamed New Year celebrations from an empty Concertgebouw last year, which she describes as “absolutely surreal”. For her, there’s no substitute for performing to a full hall: “it feels more real and you can really enjoy the energy that comes from the audience!” Máire agrees: “There’s been a chasm in my life that couldn’t be filled with anything else but live performance”.

As they looked forward to sharing our New Year celebrations with audiences in person, our two guest artists picked out some personal highlights from this year’s Viennese Whirl:

Sounds from the City of Music

What better way to put the old year behind you than to immerse yourself in the lush textures and joyful rhythms of Mozart, Lehár – and, of course, Johann Strauss II, ‘The Waltz King’ – live and in person? Viennese Whirl is packed with his waltzes and polkas, including the 1861 ‘musical jest’ Perpetuum mobile, which Nil also conducted in the Concertgebouw last year.

A bat, a cat and a mouse

Crammed with brilliant tunes and switching between waltz and polka at the drop of a cat, the Overture from Johann Strauss II’s operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat) was put to good use in a frantically funny sequence from 1950’s Tom and Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl. “It’s a must in every New Year concert!”, Nil insists. “What would life be without Fledermaus? This joyful, super difficult, dancing piece will leave you with a smile on your face!”

Flames of desire, kisses like wine

Having sung the title role in our 2018 production of The Merry Widow, Máire is looking forward to reprising the operetta’s most famous tune. “The beautiful ‘Vilja Song’, with its tale of bewitching love, and the characterful gypsy flirt of ‘Meine lippen, sie küssen so heiß’ – from Giuditta, another of Lehár’s operettas – will whirl you into the New Year in the in the second half of the concert. And we have a treat from the world of musicals that can’t help but make you want to go spinning off up the street as an encore…”

A chance to reflect

Among this more traditional fare, Nil has programmed Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, a series of songs not traditionally associated with New Year celebrations. “That certainly took me by surprise”, admits Máire, “but then I realised – what a gift! They are the most fabulous songs and the texts resonate strongly with what we have all been through, and are still in the midst of.”

Nil explains: “The Rückert-Lieder are one of the most beautiful messages of love. We often think of what we would like to do in the New Year, but sometimes we don’t give enough thought to what happened in the past: the mistakes we made, the love we received, the love we gave, the things that went wrong, the things that made us happy. There is no future without understanding the past, and I feel like this this piece will give us the time to think about all of this.

“And then let’s get drunk with some more Strauss!”

After performing the last of the two concerts at Hull City Hall, both artists will find themselves far from home when the clock strikes midnight on 31 December. “You cannot celebrate New Year’s Eve alone, even if you are a conductor and you are traveling from concert to concert”, says Nil. “So my family and the person I love will come and see the performance, and then we will all celebrate together!”

“After the concert I will be dashing back to my Airbnb in Leeds to celebrate with my husband and little two-year-old girl, who will hopefully be asleep long before we ring in the New Year!”, says Máire.

“I hope to see you there, and may we all be welcoming in a year with many, many more live theatre and concert experiences than the last two!”

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