Opera North's new season and the futility of war

Opera North's new season starts with the UK premiere of Silent Night, recalling that special day in the First World War. David Denton reports.

A scene from The Merry Widow.  (Picture: Alastair Muir).
A scene from The Merry Widow. (Picture: Alastair Muir).

“As we look to change our relationship with our neighbours in Europe, it could not be more appropriate than to reflect on the many conflicts that punctuated our last century, and to place those periods in perspective we are performing the UK premiere of Kevin Puts’ opera Silent Night, that shows humanity can exist amidst the futility of war”, comments Opera North’s General Director Richard Mantle, ahead of the company’s Autumn Season.

That story of Christmas Day in 1914 recalls the eerie silence that took hold of the battlefields in Europe when the blast of guns ceased and peace was briefly restored. That true story is recalled in the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera by the American composer, receiving a new staged concert production from Tim Albery.

Turn the clock back to 1800 and we are plunged into another war, this time taking place in Italy as Napoleon invades the country and discovers simmering factions pictured in Puccini’s Tosca. Murder, suicide and executions are the backdrop to the story of a famous and innocent opera singer caught up in the conflict.

Edward Dick’s new production opens the Leeds Grand Theatre season with Rafael Rojas and Robert Hayward in the roles of Cavaradossi and Scarpia, with Giselle Allan as Tosca. From Holland, and much in demand in the European opera houses, is the conductor, Antony Hermus.

“In this our 40th anniversary year, Opera North are continuing to create extraordinary experiences in this incredible and unique art form, using opera to challenge and entertain and to share our work in new ways with more people of northern England and far beyond,” continues Mantle, the season through to the end of the year completed by a revival of Giles Havergal’s glittering and traditional production of Lehar’s The Merry Widow.

Coming into the new year sees the first collaboration between Opera North and Leeds-based Phoenix Dance Theatre in a double-bill presentation of Puccini’s comedy, Gianni Schicchi, and Stravinsky’s savage ballet The Rite of Spring.

“I’m thrilled to be able to showcase our diversity and athletic power in such a emotional and energetic piece. With our brand new contemporary choreography and the orchestra’s modern and complex score we are becoming part of this work’s colourful history,” says the company’s Artistic Director, Sharon Watson.

Conducted by the 1999 winner of the Leeds Conductors Competition, Garry Walker, the opera cast features Richard Burkhard in the role of the scheming Schicchi, with Tereza Gevorgyan singing the popular aria, ‘O my beloved father’.

Also a previous winner of that competition, Sian Edwards makes her Opera North debut in a revival of Tim Albery’s production of Janacek’s harrowing story of Katya Kabanova, Stephanie Corley cast as the down-trodden Katya.

There is just one item in the Spring, season with a staged concert version in the Leeds Town Hall of Verdi’s Aida. Annabel Arden directs and Richard Armstrong conducts, with the famous Colombian soprano, Alexandra Zabala, in the name role, and Rafael Rojas as Radames.

Opera North Autumn Season opens at the Leeds Grand Theatre on September 16 with Puccini’s Tosca, and the Winter Season on January 19.