Opera North's newly confirmed programme for September 2013 to July 2014 is an interesting response to these belt-tightening days in the arts, especially in a subsidy-dependent area like opera. The number of Main House productions at the Grand Theatre, Leeds, is now down to six and one production is specifically labelled as "part of a major drive to attract new audiences". At the same time there is every sign of a determination to maintain the highest standards, with some bold scheduling and several productions featuring outstanding casts.
The boldest of scheduling comes in the risky, but artistically justified, response to the Benjamin Britten centenary. If Britten is, as we are always told, this country's greatest operatic composer, then Opera North's Festival of Britten is totally in proportion. With a prelude in the imaginative in-the-round staging of Albert Herring (from 15 May), the Festival consists of three contrasting Britten operas between September and November.
Bold doesn't have to mean reckless, however, and Opera North has a safety net in bringing back two acclaimed productions, each re-staged by the original director and with many key singers returning. Phyllida Lloyd's compelling production of Peter Grimes returns on 14 September, with Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts (Grimes) and Giselle Allen (Ellen Orford) heading the roll-call of returnees, Robert Hayward joining the cast as Captain Balstrode and the exciting Dutch conductor Jac van Steen making his mainstage debut. Similarly with A Midsummer Night's Dream (28 September), James Laing and Jeni Bern return to Martin Duncan's witty production as fairy royalty, Henry Waddington resumes as Bottom and Stuart Stratford conducts. It's a rather different story with Death in Venice (17 October), Yoshi Oida's 2007 Aldeburgh production revived by Rob Kearley with Opera North Music Director Richard Farnes conducting. This production, with Alan Oke as Aschenbach and Peter Savidge in the multiple baritone parts, detours from the customary tour of Salford, Newcastle and Nottingham to return home for two performances at Snape Maltings.
The highlight of the Winter Season is The Girl of the Golden West (21 January), Puccini's Wild West opera in a new production by Aletta Collins. Alwyn Mellor as Minnie and Robert Hayward and Raphael Rojas as the men in her life head a very impressive cast and Richard Farnes, recently among the nominees for the International Opera Awards, again conducts. A revival of Tim Albery's production of Verdi's Macbeth conducted by Tobias Ringborg follows on 7 February and the Spring season focuses on a revival of Phyllida Lloyd's La Boheme. Like the same director's Peter Grimes and Gloriana, this is one of Opera North's iconic productions and now, double cast with young singers, it returns for 11 performances in two weeks in Leeds from 29 April. With three matinees included, this looks to take opera to a new audience.
Then June of course brings the final instalment of Opera North's semi-staged Ring Cycle in Leeds Town Hall, the Lowry, Symphony Hall, Birmingham, and the Sage Gateshead, with Richard Farnes' superlative conducting a constant among a changing roster of international singers. In 2013 we still have Siegfried (15 June) to enjoy; the 2013-2014 season ends with Gotterdammerung (14 June, 2014), Alwyn Mellor's Brunnhilde joined by Americans Daniel Brenna (Siegfried) and Eric Greene (Gunther) and Swedes Mats Almgren (Hagen) and Jo Pohlheim (Alberich).
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