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Opera North goes greener

Details from Opera North's "recycled" season: from top left, old bottle details from a witch's costume; antlers acquired from the deer population at Harewood House near Leeds, and a 1970s caravan being turned into Falstaff's home. All [ics
Details from Opera North's "recycled" season: from top left, old bottle details from a witch's costume; antlers acquired from the deer population at Harewood House near Leeds, and a 1970s caravan being turned into Falstaff's home. All [ics

The environment takes centre-stage this autumn as Leeds-based Opera North launches its first full sustainable season, developed using the Theatre Green Book as its guide.

The Theatre Green Book is an industry standard brought together during lockdown by theatre-makers and sustainability experts.

All three "Green Season" operas open at Leeds Grand Theatre and feature imaginatively-designed sets by Leslie Travers, using elements from previous shows and props gleaned from the company's stores.

The three operas, Falstaff, La Rondine and new "recycled" work Masque of Might, can also be seen on tour in Newcastle (from October 31), Nottingham (from November 7) and Salford (from November 15).

“We’re at the point where there’s a real need for this change: we have to explore how we can make shows sustainably”, says Leslie Travers, whose set designs for all three productions feature interchangeable elements or found or recycled items.

"This sort of resourcefulness is key to the three productions’ journey to the stage, he says: “It’s one thing having an idea, but this is about how we respond to that with

what’s at hand. So my process for this season started at the stores, with Opera North’s phenomenal production team.”

The collective spirit is of experiment, adventure and discovery, Leslie enthuses: “What’s really important is that the Green Season bares its soul in terms of what we’re exploring and trying to achieve.”

“Sustainability isn’t something new for us," says production office coordinator Laura Hart. "The production team has already been at work for months, gathering props and materials from Opera North’s vast scenic stores, which is a treasure trove of sets and costumes from four decades of performances.

“Nothing ever goes in the bin”, she insists. “We reuse almost everything as a matter of course, from the truck bases that move scenic elements around the stage, to steel tubing, to costumes and props”.

The Green Season, she says, has driven fundamental changes in the way the team works. Plundering the miles of shelves and boxed-up sets at the stores has brought back memories for Leslie, an Opera North regular who has conjured the settings of some of the company’s most celebrated productions.

The objects and fixtures that he has selected, he says, will tell part of the company’s story, as well as the narrative of each opera: “Falstaff, for example, features windows from Figaro which we’ve resized and adapted, the sky from Orpheus at the back, and there are shelves full of objects that frame and comment on the action and also reappear as elements of the other two operas.

“The object I really love is our magnificent 1970s caravan – Falstaff’s home – which is then transformed into a theatre in Masque of Might”. One of the few elements newly-acquired, the caravan was sourced from The Myrtle Tavern in nearby Meanwood by way of a social media call.

“It’s full of vintage features, and it turned out to be amazingly close to what Leslie had envisioned in his model of the set”, said Laura.

“Antlers are another distinctive element in the Falstaff set, forming a chandelier, an abstracted forest, an elaborate chair”, Leslie continues. “They’re absolutely beautiful as a material, and of course they’re a renewable resource: the deer at Harewood House shed them naturally each year and they’ve been saved for us”.

Taking advantage of these local resources and talent has been one of the most important shifts in how the production team works, Laura explains: “Where we’d usually have sets fabricated in Cardiff or London, we’ve been doing a lot of jobs on site here with local artisans."

The season opens with Verdi's Falstaff (from September 28), a riotous new production directed by Olivia Fuchs with Henry Waddington as Shakespeare's most lovable rogue. Orchestrating his comeuppance are Kate Royal as the feisty Alice Ford and Helen Evora as the irrepressible Meg Page. Garry Walker conducts.

October sees the world premiere of a new fantasy, Masque of Might (from October 6), created by Sir David Pountney by "recycling" the music of Purcell. Callum Thorpe returns to Opera North as Diktat - a dictator whose actions threaten the planet until he meets his match with characters such as Nebulous/Activist/ Wolf (Andri Bjorn Robertsson) and Elena/Witch (Anna Dennis).

Completing the trio is James Hurley's new production of La Rondine (from October 20), conducted by Kerem Hasan. Set in 1930s Paris and on the Riviera, this stylish take on Puccini's opera features Galina Averina as Magda, Sebastien Gueze as her lover Ruggero and Philip Smith as the wealthy Rambaldo.

More info and tickets here


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