Golden opening to director’s farewell season

Richard Farnes and Kelly Cae Hogan, below.
Richard Farnes and Kelly Cae Hogan, below.
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Music Director of Opera North Richard Farnes is about to open his final season with the company. David Denton spoke to him.

“We have to accept that the elaborate productions required by nineteenth century opera composers are no longer viable in present day economic circumstances”, says Richard Farnes as he opens his final year as music director of Opera North with Puccini’s The Girl of the Golden West.

“The aim of the company has always been to offer leading theatre directors the opportunity to look afresh at operas, but it is Opera North’s aim to have a balance of updated and traditional productions.

“That is true of Aletta Collins’ new staging of Puccini’s American opera where she has brought the story forward to the end of the gold rush, while keeping within the framework of the original scenario with plenty of beer bottles and guns around as despondent miners drown their sorrows in alcohol.”

Farnes’ appointment as music director coincided with the changes the company were making to their infrastructure, the building of rehearsal facilities and administration offices next to the Grand Theatre creating a company atmosphere of international aspirations.

“It has physically changed everything we do, and has made the company highly cost-effective, though we like to think that on a personal level we have retained the family atmosphere that has been here from the outset. We have never been large enough to create a resident group of soloists, but we come close by regularly inviting back singers, such as Josephine Barstow and John Tomlinson. who have become internationally famous since appearing with the company in its early years.”

That is particularly true of the cast for Girl of the Golden West, the leading role of Minnie taken by the internationally acclaimed Alwyn Mellor, while three company stalwarts, Rafael Rojas as Dick Johnson; Robert Hayward as the disenchanted Sherriff, and Bonaventura Bottone as Nick, complete the major roles. “It is one of Puccini’s most demanding orchestral parts,” Farnes continues, “and we are fortunate in having an outstanding group of musicians, and the only British opera orchestra that regularly appears on the concert stage. With that ever-changing repertoire it has been able to attract some of our finest young players.”

Last October marked the bicentenary of Verdi’s birth and Opera North now joins the celebrations with a revival of Tim Albery’s bleak and chilling 2008 production of Macbeth. It arrives with the exciting prospect of the outstanding American soprano, Kelly Cae Hogan, as Lady Macbeth. Having arrived at the eleventh hour to take the highly demanding part of Brunnhilde, Hogan saved Opera North’s 2012 opening night of Wagner’s Die Walkure. “It was following that hurried company debut that we invited Hogan back in less fraught times to take a major role,” says Farnes.

Also returning from that Wagner cast is the Hungarian baritone, Bela Perenez, as Macbeth, with a Korean tenor, Jung Soo Yun, as Macduff. Tobias Ringborg conducts.

In the midst of this murderous mayhem comes the ultimate present for Valentine’s Day with an evening From Paris with Love, as three opera stars, Jeni Bern, Peter Auty and Geoffrey Dalton, go on a ‘city by night’ tour. Their programme of music journeys through opera favourites by Puccini, Massenet and Offenbach, to the songs of love and heartbreak popularised by Edith Piaf. Remaining in Paris, a rerun of Phyllida Lloyd’s version of Puccini’s La Boheme takes the story to the city in the 1950s, and offers a double-cast run from the end of April through early May. Almost prophetically Gotterdammerung, which relates the demise of the Gods in the last installment of Wagner’s The Ring, marks Farnes’ final opera as part of the company – with an outstanding cast headed by Alwyn Mellor as Brunnhilde; the American tenor, Daniel Brenna, as Siegfried, and the quite remarkable baritone, Jo Pohleim, as Alberich – and he dispels rumours floating around that 2015 will see complete Ring cycles, though he hopes at some time in the future the idea may resurface.

“My present contract ends this coming August, and I felt that after ten years the time was right for me to move on to new pastures.”

Dates for your diary in Opera North’s coming season

Puccini’s Girl of the Golden West at Leeds Grand Theatre on January 21, 30, February 8, 19 & 21, 7.30pm.

Verdi’s Macbeth: February 7, 13, 18, 20 & 22, 7pm

From Paris with Love: February 14 & 15, 7.30pm

Puccini’s La Boheme: 
April 29, May 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 
9. 10, 7.30pm & 3, 7, 10, 2.30pm

Wagner’s Gotterdammerung will be performed at Leeds Town Hall on June 14 
and 18 and on July 12 at 3.30pm.

Tickets 0844 8482700