Fairytale season

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As The Snow Maiden opens Opera North’s Winter Season this month, David Denton talks to the tenor Bonaventura Bottone.

“The Snow Maiden is a fantasy story of the beautiful daughter of Father Frost and Mother Spring who was born with a heart made of ice that will only be melted by true love, though that will bring her death. Tsar Berendey, which is where I step in, wants to introduce her to the man who will love her so that she can enjoy life’s most blissful and essential moment.”

Speaking to Bonaventura Bottone in rehearsal before next week’s opening night of Opera North’s new production of the Rimsky-Korsakov opera, I remind him of his debut with the company in their first season almost 38 years ago. “I was singing John Styx in Offenbach’s, Orpheus in the Underworld, and that was my first big break into opera as a young tenor at the age of 28. It was something of a do or die season for the company with just that one year of funding from the Arts Council to see if there was a viable opera audience in the north of England. Now it has grown into one of the most respected companies in Europe, Snow Maiden being a typical example of its adventurous policy. Though it’s a popular opera in Russia, I don’t remember it ever being performed in this country during in my lifetime, and it is certainly my first appearance as Berendey, a most rewarding role for any singer. Fairy-tales are always a problem for today’s audiences and I’m not going to spoil the surprises we have in store, but it’s a production full of imaginative effects as it moves from illusion to reality.” The Irish soprano Aoife Miskelly, described as one of today’s most exciting young opera singers sings the part of the Snow Maiden, with Yvonne Howard and James Creswell as the mother and father.

Bottone has enjoyed a career that has taken him around the world’s most prestigious venues, and in a hectic year ahead of him he returns to Leeds in April singing the cameo role of the ageing Emperor Altoum in the company’s staged concert performances of Puccini’s Turandot in the Town Hall.

Continuing the season’s theme of fairy-tales, Opera North have invited one of today’s most innovative and dynamic theatre, film and opera directors, Edward Dick, to take a new look at Hansel and Gretel, Humperdinck’s story of two rather naughty children that has in recent times become part of the popular Christmas opera presentations. In the name roles the company once again bring to the fore two of its young artists, Katie Bray and Fflur Wyn, with Susan Bullock as the witch presiding over the Gingerbread Cottage where she takes them to join the other children she’s turned into gingerbread. As in all such stories it ends happily and there is a matinee performance when parents could bring young children, though hurry as tickets are selling out fast (February 25).

Canadian mezzo Wallis Giunta sings the role of Cinderella in Rossini’s sparkling romantic comedy, La Cenerentola. Now a principal singer of the famous Leipzig Opera, she introduced herself to the company singing the role there last year. “You can understand why Don Ramiro falls in love with this delicate and aristocratic beauty,” was among the rave reviews that followed her eagerly anticipated opening night, concluding that, “you can hardly get enough of this beautiful bel canto singing.”

Banished from Rossini’s score is the usual pantomime comedy, replacing it from the outset with a romantic story between the young and poor Cinderella and Don Remiro who, in disguise as a servant, goes looking for a wife who prizes love and life before wealth and status. South African tenor, Sunnyboy Dladla, a Rossini specialist who regularly appears in the annual Rossini Festival in the composer’s home town of Pesaro, takes the part of the Prince, with Sky Ingram and Amy J Payne as Cinderella’s two step-sisters who fancy their marriage chances with Ramiro. Henry Waddington is the browbeaten father. Aletta Collins, who has already brought to Opera North a number of outstanding productions, including Puccini’s The Girl of the Golden West, takes a new look at this familiar story.

Following a month Leeds Grand Theatre, the three operas go on tour to Newcastle, Salford, Belfast and Nottingham.

Tickets on 0844 8482700 or www.operanorth.co.uk

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Opera North’s Winter Season opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on January 21 with The Snow Maiden and runs to February 25.

All three operas are in new productions specially devised for Opera North, The Snow Maiden receiving it first UK professional production for over sixty years.

Star-studded casts from around the world include the sensational Canadian-born Wallis Giunta singing Cinderella.

Three staged concert performances of Puccini’s Turandot at the Town Hall on April 28, 29 and May 12, feature the full chorus and symphony orchestra of Opera North.