Much as I delighted in Paradise Moscow and the Gershwin double-header (I think immersion in Marx Brothers films and 1930s musicals made for a more favourable reaction than most people’s), there is no doubt that the 2008-2009 Opera North season has been lopsided. Each of the four operettas has been justified in its own right (especially the premiere of Skin Deep, even if it didn’t quite come off), but four light operas in eight productions is risky in all sorts of ways.
Thus no one should be surprised that next year’s programme is more conventional, even, in some ways, cautious, though the Opera North version of caution is still pretty innovative. Main house productions are down from eight to seven, with only one light opera (Ruddigore, the company’s first Gilbert and Sullivan in many years) and nearly fifty performances scheduled for revivals of two guaranteed box office successes. Tim Albery’s camera oscura version of Cosi Fan Tutte made more sense than most of the opera’s tangled relations when it was first staged in 2004 and it now returns with a fine young cast including Elizabeth Atherton, Victoria Simmonds, Allan Clayton and one of many emerging European singers at Leeds next year, Dutch baritone Quirijn de Lang. Phyllida Lloyd’s much loved and much revived 1950s La Boheme (the one where you expected to see Juliette Greco at any minute) returns with Richard Farnes conducting and an exciting international cast including last year’s outstanding Madam Butterfly Anne Sophie Duprels, Turkish tenor Bulent Bezduz, Polish baritone Marcin Bronikowski and, again, Quirijn de Lang.
Olivia Fuchs’ production of Dvorak’s Rusalka, conducted by Oliver von Dohnanyi with many of the original cast, is the other revival, having spent the last few years garnering all sorts of awards in Australia.
Two of the new productions are very much singer-led, cast around major international singers with strong Opera North connections: Alice Coote and Paul Nilon in Massenet’s Werther, and Sarah Connolly continuing the bel canto tradition after last year’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi by taking the title role in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, with last year’s Lady Macbeth, Antonia Cifrone, as Elizabeth I.
The final main stage opera is an unusual co-production with Scottish Opera. Steadily working through the Janacek repertoire, Opera North has reached the fantasy comic opera, The Adventures of Mr Broucek. This requires a hefty input of resources, notably of extra chorus, so both ON and SO performances will use the Opera North chorus, supplemented from the pool of singers on which the chorus-less Scottish Opera draws. As well as John Graham-Hall as Mr Broucek, the cast is stuffed with Opera North and Scottish Opera favourites like Donald Maxwell, Frances McCafferty and Jonathan Best.
Opera North’s launch of the 2009-2010 also included some information on the thriving orchestral concert season in Kirklees and the new and splendidly versatile venue at the Grand Theatre, the Howard Assembly Room. It’s here that Opera North’s eighth opera is to be staged, the company’s third world premiere in three years, by Jonathan Dove and Alasdair Middleton who were responsible for the enormously successful Adventures of Pinnochio. Swanhunter is based on a Norse myth and is aimed at children and adults alike. It will also be the centrepiece of The Idea of North, a programme of performances and events including Susan Bickley singing Judith Weir’s King Harald’s Saga and a revival of the powerful and moving film-cum-performance of Winterreise.
Autumn Season (September 11-November 22): Cosi fan Tutte; Werther; The Adventures of Mr Broucek; Swanhunter
Winter Season (January 15-February 20): La Boheme; Ruddigore; Cosi fan Tutte
Spring Season (May 4-June 12): La Boheme; Rusalka; Maria Stuarda