It's diary time again as two of our busiest regional companies announce new seasons that include an array of new and neglected work alongside more familiar fare. It is a tribute to the enterprising spirit of both Opera North and English Touring Opera that they feel able to pooh-pooh the recession and place little-known music at the heart of their programming.
The Leeds-based company is fielding a trio of popular warhorses, Carmen, The Merry Widow and Fidelio, to support a bold programme that includes new productions of Britten's ghost opera The Turn of the Screw, staged by Alessandro Talevi, and Janéček's From the House of the Dead in which John Fulljames directs a top-notch cast: Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, Alan Oke, Roderick Williams and the talented young soprano Claire Wild. Both of these two works will be conducted by ON's Music Director, Richard Farnes.
More enterprising still are the season's new works. Actually, one is a revival: Jonathan Dove's The Adventures of Pinocchio was a surprise hit for the company three years ago, and it is being restaged for a generous run of 20 performances across the company's regular venues (the Lowry in Salford, the Sage in Gateshead and the Theatre Royals of Newcastle and Nottingham, in addition to Leeds Town Hall). David Parry will conduct Martin Duncan's production.
The second novelty is Polish composer Mieczysław Weinberg's The Portrait, a little-known piece composed in 1980 but not previously seen in this country. David Pountney will direct this adaptation of a cautionary tale by Gogol about a portrait that grants its owner wealth and success… but at a cost. The cast is headed by Paul Nilon, Richard Burkhard and Helen Field, and with just seven planned performances The Portrait is bound to be worth seeking out.
The big event is reserved for next summer, during the company's normal close season, when Opera North launches a complete Ring cycle in concert performances. Next summer they will be giving us six opportunities to hear Richard Farnes conduct Das Rheingold – in Leeds (twice), at the Lowry and the Sage, and in Symphony Hall, Birmingham. The cast for 2011 includes Joachim Seipp, James Creswell and Yvonne Howard. After that, expect an opera a year until 2014.
English Touring Opera
Following a year devoted to Handel and to core repertoire, ETO is playing it anything but safe with its autumn pairing. The Duenna, a musical comedy to a libretto by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, was crafted by the Thomas Linleys, père et fils and fashioned, like The Beggar's Opera before it, from the popular airs and folk tunes of its day. The Duenna was one of the most popular entertainments of the 18th century, described as ‘the best opera ever written' by Byron and one of the ‘two best comedies of the age' by Dr. Johnson.
Using newly discovered manuscripts, ETO's production will retrace the steps of the original production, with opening performances at Covent Garden where the work premiered in 1775 (though not, of course, in the Linbury Theatre of today!), followed by a visit to Exeter. Other venues include Poole, Bath, Malvern, Bexhill-on-Sea, Cambridge, Harrogate and Snape. For Michael Carven-Caven's staging, Joseph McHardy will conduct a strong cast led by Richard Suart and Adrian Thompson.
The companion production, being presented at most of the same venues, is a thrilling prospect indeed. Alexander Goehr's new work marks the first known time that a British composer has set King Lear as an opera. That fact is surprising in itself, for was there ever a more operatic subject than Shakespeare's great drama of nobility, madness and betrayal? Goehr's work, entitled Promised End, is composed to a libretto that Frank Kermode has crafted around the central threads of the original play. Ryan Wigglesworth will conduct, ETO Artistic Director James Conway will direct and baritone Roderick Earle will assume the role of the tragic king, with Nigel Robson as Gloucester.