Screen test for opera lovers 
as hi-tech hits town

A scene from Opera North's production of Janacek's The Makropolous Case.
A scene from Opera North's production of Janacek's The Makropolous Case.
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Opera North is back with three new productions for the coming season. Classical music writer David Denton finds out about the higlights.

Taking opera into the 21st century has become the mission statement of Opera North in their new season opening at Leeds Grand Theatre next week, with two of their new productions using digitally created imagery as an integral part of the staging.

“Live theatre has been moving in this direction for some time,” says the company’s general director, Richard Mantle.

“Now we want to see how it works in opera with Gounod’s Faust and Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito coming in new productions from young innovative directors.

“Experimenting with reconstructing opera becomes much easier if you bring together the musically strong casts we have assembled throughout the season, mixing singers who have become popular with our audiences with some exciting new names from the international opera circuit.” The digital element is an exciting step into the future for the opera company.

“If we find that this works in creating backdrops, it will make life much easier to use it in touring to different sizes of theatre and in combining with other companies in future co-productions,” says Mantle.

“Of course we have to respect that some operas are locked into a time frame, and Janacek’s Makroupulos Case, which we premiered at the Edinburgh Festival a few weeks ago, brings with it a very attractive set as the background to the strange story.”

Having a complete season of new productions has to be a very rare event in the calendar of any company, though it appears to be an annual season truncated to just seven months.

“There had been no master plan to bring them all together,” says Mantle. “It has just worked out that way, although having something new and different always causes an exciting buzz in the company.

“We have tweaked a previous production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, that you will have seen before, to share a double bill with Poulenc’s disturbing piece of personal drama in La voix humaine, and it brings with it Lesley Garrett’s return to the opera stage.

“We have been talking with her for some time about an appropriate work, and this fraught story of a telephone call in which she gets continually cut off, is tailor made to Leslie’s great sense of the theatre.

“The season looks rather short as we are beginning an experiment with seasons that run in parallel with our financial year, and towards the end of October we will be announcing plans for the whole of 2013.”

Mantle is also concerned about arts funding cuts. With, he says, a cut that has reduced the company’s income by £1.75 m, the impact on the chorus and backstage will be apparent.

Next January also ends one of the strangest of Opera North’s omissions with the company’s first staging of Verdi’s popular Otello based on Shakespeare’s play. It features in the title role the tenor, Ronald Samm, whose sensational television debut came a couple of years back in a Birmingham community performance of the opera.

“Audiences will be certainly intrigued with Mozart’s Don Giovanni which opens in Leeds next week,” says Mantle.

“It is a rethink of the story from the bright young director, Alessandro Talevi, who looks back at the work’s origins as a dark comedy and I hope the audience will be laughing at the many moments originally intended as comedy.

“Then think of something like last year’s musical, Carousel, and you will have some idea as to our aims for the spring season.

“We will also be preparing the next instalment in our Wagner Ring cycle which has now reached the opera Siegfried.”

Despite the funding cuts and the continuing difficulties of running any art company today, Mantle is optimistic.

“Looking forward we have plans for the ‘Festival of Britten’, to mark the 
centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten, with his 
four major operas, Peter Grimes, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and new productions of Albert Herring and Death in Venice as part of our 2013 year.”

Opera North at Leeds Grand Theatre from September 28, 0844 848 2700.

Three of the best to inspire audiences through season

Don Giovanni: Inspired by the Spanish legend of Don Juan, Mozart created what became one of his most famous operas, about a man who lives out all of his fantasies to the full.

Faust: Performed in more than 50 countries and translated in 50 languages, Gounod’s classic retelling of the Faust legend remains one of the most popular operas of all time.

The Makropolous Case: Based on a popular Czech comedy, Janacek’s penultimate opera is a mystery thriller about desire and eternal life, Richard Farnes conducts this new production.