Close cultural bonds as Opera North joins forces with creative talents

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Opera North is embarking on a series of big artistic collaborations in Leeds. Chris Bond spoke to its general director Richard Mantle.

Collaborations between arts organisations is nothing new, but this idea of pooling resources and creative talent is becoming more of a regular feature of the cultural scene in the North of England. And long may it continue.

It’s something that Opera North has been doing for years having worked on joint productions in this country as well as in Europe, the US and Australia.

Now the Leeds-based company kicks off its winter season this month with James Brining, artistic director at Leeds Playhouse, directing a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

Opera North is also working with Phoenix Dance Theatre to stage a production of The Rite of Spring with Puccini’s comic opera Gianni Schicchi.

Richard Mantle, Opera North’s general director, is pleased by the growing number of collaborative projects on our doorstep. “There’s been a feeling for a while now that in a city like Leeds, which has a vibrant cultural scene and a number of arts organisations that are leaders in their field, it would be crazy not to think about working together.”

Opera North’s first major collaborative foray with Leeds Playhouse was when James Brining directed Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods in 2016. It was the success of this that led to the company approaching Brining about directing his first opera.

Mantle believes the benefits are numerous. “We all have an interest in making the cultural and artistic life of Yorkshire vibrant, and though we’re different and have different experiences we can draw on these. So doing something like The Magic Flute benefits from having a real theatrical director’s eye on it.”

With the co-production of The Rite of Spring double bill, which opens at Leeds Grand next

month, it brings ballet and opera together.

Sharon Watson, Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director, says it is an “exciting” collaboration. “It’s the first time we have worked with Opera North on a full-scale production and with our brand new contemporary choreography and the orchestra’s thoroughly modern and complex score, we are becoming a part of this production’s colourful history.”

Mantle agrees. “It’s not the first time it’s ever been done, but to bring an opera and ballet together gives both audiences a new experience. We wanted to work with Phoenix Dance and hopefully this will prove to be a very interesting and inspiring experience.”

The vexed question of declining audiences is one that has concerned the opera world for many years, but Mantle sees these artistic collaborations as far more than simply a marriage of necessity in economically straitened times.

“You don’t do collaborations just to increase attendances, though where it can help is in finding new audiences,” he says.

“Audiences go up and down as they do for any art form but we’re having a bit of a roll and over the last two or three years we have seen increasing numbers.

“I think collaborations are a cost-effective and artistically interesting and innovative way of working together and this brave new world has drawn arts companies together.”

The Magic Flute opens on January 19. For details about this and The Rite of Spring/Gianni Schicchi visit www.operanorth.co.uk