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Bringing the magic (flute) back

Samantha Hay as The Queen of the Night in Opera North's 2019 production of The Magic Flute. Pic: Alastair Muir
Samantha Hay as The Queen of the Night in Opera North's 2019 production of The Magic Flute. Pic: Alastair Muir

Opera North has an autumn season of revivals of three popular operas – and will follow it with an early 2025 season of considerable ambition.

Common to both will be performances of Mozart’s The Magic Flute in the production by James Brining (CEO and artistic director of Leeds Playhouse) last seen in March 2019. It’s opening in Leeds then tours in the autumn alongside Martin Duncan’s 2013 production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Jo Davies’ 2010 production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddigore.

In January to March 2025 The Magic Flute is back – complete with a 90-minute “compact” version designed for families, schools and anyone else who may enjoy a shorter, daytime experience. Seeking to build new audiences, the company is also offering The Big Opera Adventure – a family show of opera highlights – in Leeds, Huddersfield and Salford in the autumn, plus occasional matinees and 6pm shows in both seasons in Leeds, along with “Try it ON” tickets in all venues: £20 for first-timers, £10 for under-30s and students, and free for 16 to 20-year-olds.

There are three big new projects in the New Year: in Leeds only, a return to Broadway musicals in the shape of Kurt Weill’s Love Life (also to be recorded for the Kurt Weil Foundation); in all theatre venues (Leeds, Newcastle, Salford, Nottingham and Hull) a new production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman; and in selected concert halls a concert staging of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, which will visit Bradford, Nottingham, Gateshead, Liverpool, Hull and the Southbank Centre in London, but not Manchester or Salford – as Halle-goers will know, Sir Mark Elder is presenting and recording the original 1857 version of Simon Boccanegra at the Bridgewater Hall next month. Opera North, it seems, will use the revised version of 1881.

James Brining’s production of The Magic Flute takes it some distance from the rescue fantasy beloved of 18th century Viennese audiences, building on themes often seen as sub-texts to the story, underlined by Mozart’s music. Brining sees the whole thing through a young girl's eyes, as the grown-ups in her life are reincarnated to be characters in the story: dad is estranged from mum, nanny morphs into a damsel in distress. Will the prince come to save her, and will love conquer all?

The production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream locates it in the 1960s, on the basis that the opera was first performed in 1960 which is before what we call "the Sixties" really got going. But, as every septuagenarian knows, if you were really there in the 1960s you won’t remember it anyway, so a dose of flower power and psychedelia suits Shakespeare’s story surprisingly well. Henry Waddington reprises his role as Bottom, and casting must of course be quality all round for this magical piece, which has all the fun of Shakespeare’s original.

Ruddigore, in Jo Davies’ vision, is a wonderful romp as well as a send-up of the Victorian melodramas of its own day. There’s dancing a-plenty, and Amy Freston, a trained dancer as well as soprano, returns to be Rose Maybud, the heroine role she played in the original production. Steven Page is also back as Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, and G&S expert John Savournin is the dastardly Sir Despard.

In 2025 there’s Robert Hayward as the Dutchman, and Roland Wood and Brindley Sherratt in the Verdi. Music director Garry Walker conducts A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Flying Dutchman, chief guest conductor Anthony Hermus takes Simon Boccanegra, and Anthony Kraus conducts Ruddigore.

More info and tickets here

Listen to ON's Laura Canning on the new season:


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