Puccini’s devastating take on passion and power, Janacek’s bittersweet exploration of the cycle of life, and Strauss’ playful look at what happens when tragedy and comedy collide gives Opera North’s new winter season memorable characters, compelling drama and music to theatres across the north.
Alongside the main shows there will also be over 40 chances for young people and their families to engage with opera in theatres, libraries, schools, community arts centres and universities around the region.
The season opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on January 21 with Edward Dick’s thrilling production of Puccini’s Tosca, one of the world’s most enduringly popular operas.
Robert Hayward returns to the company to sing Scarpia, with Giselle Allen sharing the role of Tosca with Magdalena Molendowska. Ukrainian tenor Mykhailo Malafii makes his Opera North debut as Cavaradossi with Uruguayan tenor Andrés Presno singing the role in Nottingham and Newcastle.
A different look at life and loss follows, with Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen. Inspired by a comic strip in his local paper, Janacek brought his unique vision to this captivating tale of a mischievous young vixen – Sharp-Ears – who, having been captured by a Forester to become his family’s pet, eventually manages to escape back into the wild, only to be shot while defending her cubs. By turns funny and profound, the opera features colourful characters – including hens, a dragonfly and a badger – and a playful score brimming with folk-infused melodies.
Originally a Scottish Opera/ Welsh National Opera co-production, Sir David Pountney’s interpretation of Janacek’s work is widely regarded as a classic. Andrew Gourlay conducts a cast that features singers making a return to Opera North, including Elin Pritchard (Nedda, Pagliacci 2017) who sings Sharp-Ears, Heather Lowe (Cherubino, The Marriage of Figaro 2020) as Fox, Callum Thorpe (Sparafucile in Rigoletto 2022) as the Poacher and Paul Nilon (Yannakos, The Greek Passion 2019) as the Schoolmaster. James Rutherford shares the role of the Forester with Richard Burkhard, and t show will be offered as a schools’ matinee in Leeds and on tour.
A learning pack linked to various subjects in the curriculum will provide information and resources for teachers before their visit, and schools will have the option to attend an online interactive music and drama workshop early next year to explore the score, plot and characters
Taking Janacek’s opera as its inspiration, a family-friendly show Little Listeners: Mini Vixen has also been created to give all ages a chance to experience live music and storytelling in relaxed settings. The show will tour throughout the north, with performances already planned in Cumbria, Dewsbury, Doncaster, Halifax, Hull, Leeds, Newcastle, Salford, Wakefield and York.
Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, a first for Opera North, completes the winter season in a co-production with Gothenburg Opera, where it premiered to critical acclaim in 2018. London-based Greek director Rodula Gaitanou and designer George Souglides have set the action in a bustling 1950s Felliniesque Italian film studio. Much to everyone’s dismay, two different shows - a light musical comedy and a serious mythological opera - have been asked to merge at the last minute to cut costs. The worlds collide to hilarious effect when the commedia dell’arte’s fickle Zerbinetta tries to cheer up Ariadne/ Prima Donna, who longs only for death – having been jilted by Theseus.
Underpinned by a score that is both heroic and romantic, the ensuing drama offers a meditation on differing attitudes to life and love and casts a quizzical eye over the concepts of high and low art.
Opera North’s Principal Guest Conductor, Antony Hermus, returns to conduct a cast including, in their company debuts, English soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn as Ariadne/Prima Donna and Polish mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp as the Composer. They are joined by Jennifer France as Zerbinetta and Erin Caves as Bacchus/ Tenor.
Following the run in Leeds, all three productions will tour to venues including The Lowry, Salford, and Newcastle Theatre Royal, with performances of Tosca and The Cunning Little Vixen also at Hull New Theatre.
Free tickets are available for 16 to 20-year-olds at all Leeds performances, while under-30s can take advantage of schemes at each venue to watch a performance for £10.
Info and tickets here