Updated: Mar 12
Opera North is forging into the future with an announcement of its plans for the 2022-23 season running from September.
The programme follows the familiar path of combining box-office bankers (some revived quite quickly) with some intriguingly off-piste pieces and presentation ideas.
They’ve done the Monteverdi before, but this time it will be directed by the young British-Asian director Anna Himali Howard, with composer and sitar player Jasdeep Singh Degun sharing musical direction with early-music specialist Laurence Cummings.
The “winter” series (January 21-March 4 in Leeds, March 7-11 at The Lowry and March 21-25 in Newcastle) brings back Edward Dick’s presentation of Tosca, but with both Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos (a co-production with the Gothenburg Opera House, whose waterside setting and even architectural design are strikingly similar to The Lowry’s) and the return of David Pountney’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen by Janacek, conducted by Opera North music director Garry Walker. The Janacek, based on a cartoon character, is usually a real delight and will have Elin Pritchard in the title role.
Giselle Allen took the title role of Tosca last time, in 2018, and I thought then that the company had struck gold with its choice. The Strauss opera will be conducted by Antony Hermus, the young Dutch maestro whose first work with Opera North was on that Tosca, making me suggest (at the time) that he might be in the running for the then-vacant job of music director. In fact they made him Principal Guest Conductor - Opera North's first, if I’m not mistaken.
The Vixen and Tosca also travel to Hull New Theatre next March 29-30.
Then there’s what they call the spring season, which features a dance presentation of Mozart’s Requiem with Phoenix Dance (Leeds only, May 26 and 30 and June 1,3 and 4), plus a concert version of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers (other dates in May-June in Leeds, and on June 11 at The Lowry).
The Pearl Fishers is one of those shows that’s known almost entirely for one unforgettable number – the tenor-baritone duet Au fond du temple saint. Its theme is woven through much of the score, and makes the whole thing well worth seeing. Or, in this case, hearing.
Of the decision to make it just a concert version, Opera North’s press announcement says “its setting … presents challenges for contemporary opera companies and audiences”.
You could say that. When they did it at Manchester's Palace Theatre in June 1995, exotically designed with dancers leaping to and fro across the stage with real flaming torches, one of those torches bounced a red-hot ember into the nearby scenery, which caught alight, temporarily halting the show.