With Puccini’s devastating take on passion and power, Janáček’s bittersweet exploration of the cycle of life, and Strauss’ playful look at what happens when tragedy and comedy collide on and off stage, Opera North’s new season brings memorable characters, compelling drama and incredible music to theatres across the north of England this winter. Alongside the mainstage shows, there will also be over 40 opportunities for young people and their families to engage with opera in theatres, libraries, schools, community arts centres and universities throughout the region.
The season opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on Saturday 21 January with Edward Dick’s thrilling production of Puccini’s Tosca, one of the world’s most enduringly popular operas. The singer Tosca is the lover of Cavaradossi, an artist, but has also attracted the attention of Scarpia, the corrupt Chief of Police, who wants her for himself. The opportunity presents itself when Cavaradossi is arrested and tortured for helping an escaped political prisoner. Scarpia offers Tosca a stark choice: if she gives herself to him, he will let Cavaradossi go free.
Robert Hayward returns to Opera North to sing Scarpia with Giselle Allen sharing the role of Tosca with Magdalena Molendowska. Ukrainian tenor Mykhailo Malafii makes his Opera North debut as Cavaradossi with Uruguayan tenor Andrés Presno singing the role in Nottingham and Newcastle. Opera North Music Director, Garry Walker, conducts Puccini’s mesmerising score which includes Tosca’s moving paean to art ‘Vissi d’arte’, Caravadossi’s heart-wrenching farewell ‘E lucevanle stelle’, and the powerful hymn ‘Te deum’.
A very different look at life and loss follows with Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen. Inspired by a comicstrip in his local paper, Janáček brought his unique vision to this captivating tale of a mischievous young vixen Sharp-Ears who, having been captured by a Forester to become his family’s pet, eventually manages to escape back into the wild only to be shot while defending her cubs. By turns funny and profound, the opera features a host of colourful characters including hens, a dragonfly and a badger, and a playful score brimming with folk-infused melodies.
Originally a Scottish Opera/Welsh National Opera co-production, Sir David Pountney’s interpretation of Janáček’s work is widely regarded as a classic. Andrew Gourlay conducts a cast which sees a host of singers making a welcome return to the Opera North stage including Elin Pritchard (Nedda, Pagliacci, 2017) who sings Vixen Sharp-Ears, Heather Lowe (Cherubino, The Marriage of Figaro, 2020) as Fox, Callum Thorpe (Sparafucile, Rigoletto, 2022) as the Poacher and Paul Nilon (Yannakos, The Greek Passion, 2019) as the Schoolmaster. James Rutherford shares the role of the Forester with Richard Burkhard (Lhotský, Osud/Tonio, Pagliacci, 2017)
The Cunning Little Vixen will be offered as a schools’ matinee both in Leeds and on tour to give upper KS2 and KS3 pupils the chance to experience live opera in the theatre, many for the first time. A learning pack linked to various subjects in the curriculum will provide information and resources for teachers to use in the classroom before their visit, and schools will have the option to attend an online interactive music and drama workshop early in the year to explore the score, plot and characters with a vocal animateur and drama practitioner from the company’s Education team.
Taking Janáček’s opera as its inspiration, a family-friendly show Little Listeners: Mini Vixen has also been created to give all ages a chance to experience live music and storytelling in relaxed and welcoming settings. A cast of professional opera singers and musicians will take the audience on a fun-filled adventure in the forest as a vixen and fox discover that working together achieves far more than going it alone. The show will tour throughout the North with performances already planned in Alnwick, Cumbria, Dewsbury, Doncaster, Halifax, Hull, Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham, Salford Quays, Wakefield and York.
Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, a first for Opera North, completes the winter season in a co-production with Gothenburg Opera, where it premiered to critical acclaim in 2018. London-based Greek director Rodula Gaitanou and designer George Souglides have set the action in a bustling 1950s Fellini-esque Italian film studio. Much to everyone’s dismay, two different shows - a light musical comedy and a serious mythological opera - have been asked to merge at the last minute to cut costs. The worlds collide to hilarious effect when the commedia dell’arte’s fickle Zerbinetta tries to cheer up Ariadne/Prima Donna, who longs only for death having been jilted by Theseus.
Underpinned by a score which is at once heroic and romantic, the ensuing drama both on and off stage offers a meditation on differing attitudes to life and love and casts a quizzical eye over the concepts of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. Opera North’s Principal Guest Conductor, Antony Hermus, returns to conduct a cast including, in their Company debuts, English soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn as Ariadne/ Prima Donna and Polish mezzo soprano Hanna Hipp as the Composer.They are joined by Jennifer France as Zerbinetta and Erin Cavesas Bacchus/ Tenor.
Following the run in Leeds, all three productions will tour to venues across the north of England, including The Lowry at Salford Quays, Nottingham Theatre Royal and Newcastle Theatre Royal, with performances of Tosca and The Cunning Little Vixen also planned at Hull New Theatre. Free tickets are available for 16 to 20-year-olds at all performances in Leeds, while Under 30s can take advantage of the schemes running in every venue to watch a performance for just £10. Through the Try it ON scheme, newcomers to opera can also enjoy some of the best seats in the house with two tickets for £20 each at Leeds, Manchester and Nottingham.
TOSCA. Giacomo Puccini. Opens Sat 21 January 2023. In Italian with English titles.
Puccini’s high-octane score - at times soaring and tender, at other times brutally powerful - has made Tosca one of the world’s most popular operas.
Giselle Allen and Robert Hayward reprise their roles in Edward Dick’s electrifying production, conducted by Opera North Music Director, Garry Walker.
THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN. Leoš Janáček. Opens Sat 4 February 2023. In English with English titles.
A Forester captures a young Vixen and takes her home as a pet for his children. But when she is harassed by the Forester’s amorous dog, and tormented by the children, she escapes back into the wild. There, the Vixen meets a Fox and has a family, but later she is shot dead as she fends for her cubs. Her children survive, however, and the opera ends in an affirmation of the power of nature to renew itself.
Inspired by the sights and sounds of his native Moravian countryside, Janáček’s colouristic score vividly evokes both the human and animal worlds without a trace of sentimentality. Originally a Scottish Opera/ Welsh National Opera co-production, David Pountney’s production - here conducted by Andrew Gourlay in his Opera North debut -is widely regarded as a classic.
ARIADNE AUF NAXOS. Richard Strauss. Opens Sat 18 February 2023. In German and English with English titles.
Comedy and tragedy collide when a wealthy patron commissions two entertainments for his guests – one a knockabout comedy, the other a high-flown mythological opera. Chaos erupts when, at the last minute, both companies are instructed to perform their pieces simultaneously.
The backstage shenanigans of the prologue give way to a meditation on differing attitudes to life and love in the opera proper, with Ariadne, who longs only for death after she is abandoned by the faithless Theseus, contrasted with Zerbinetta, for whom one lover can easily be replaced by another.
All sides of Strauss’s musical personality – comic, heroic and romantic – are on glorious display in this sumptuous confection. Director Rodula Gaitanou locates the action in a Fellini-esque Italian film studio in a production that won high praise when it was first seen in Gothenburg in 2018.
For further details of Opera North's Winter Season - and to book CLICK HERE
Header Image: Ariadne auf Naxos (Image Mats Baker)