After a Christmas-time celebration with further performances of The Adventures of Pinocchio and The Merry Widow, the Winter Season proper begins at Opera North on January 17th. American director Daniel Kramer was responsible for the world premiere of Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna and here moves into the mainstream with a new production of Carmen. Two noted Opera North debutants are German conductor Andreas Delfs and Lithuanian bass-baritone Kostas Smoriginas in the role of Escamillo. The other principals are regular favourites at Opera North: Heather Shipp (Carmen), Peter Auty (Don Jose) and Anne Sophie Duprels (Michaela).

Sharing the Winter season with Carmen and The Merry Widow is an Opera North first, the British premiere of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Portrait. Weinberg was a close friend and follower of Shostakovich and there is currently a major revival of interest in his work in Europe, with David Pountney introducing Weinberg’s work at the Bregenz Festival. Pountney directs Opera North’s production, with the talented young Bulgarian conductor Rossen Gergov, conductor of The Portrait at the Bregenz Festival. The cast for The Portrait, based on a Gogol story, includes many familiar figures from past Opera North productions, including Paul Nilon, a master of such problematic roles, as the unsuccessful painter, Chartkov, and Helen Field, making a welcome return to Leeds having appeared with the company frequently early in her career.

Another first for the company comes with the first stage of Opera North’s Ring Cycle: Das Rheingold, first performance at Leeds Town Hall on June 18th. The casting for these Opera in Concert performances has just been completed, with Michael Druiett, Donner in Scottish Opera’s Ring Cycle more than a decade ago, taking on Wotan. An international cast includes such Opera North regulars as Yvonne Howard (Fricka), Giselle Allen (Freia) and Peter Wedd (Froh), but also new names to Leeds. Loge is taken by Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Austrian-born, but with a Europe-wide career, including the Witch in Glyndebourne’s Hansel and Gretel this year. Bass-baritone Joachim Seipp (Alberich) built his career in German opera houses and more recently at the Tiroler Landestheater, Innsbruck, where he sang Wotan in Das Rheingold last year.

Opera North’s Music Director Richard Farnes takes charge of the company’s Ring Cycle, with the invaluable presence of Dame Anne Evans, one of the great Brunnhildes, as Artistic Consultant.

- Ron Simpson