THE PEARL FISHERS and REQUIEM Lead Opera North's Spring Season

Learn more about the upcoming shows here!

Photos: First Look at 42ND STREET at Curve, Leicester and Sadler's Wells

Opera North's season for Spring 2023 includes two new productions exploring loss, memory and renewal: Bizet's The Pearl Fishers and a contemporary dance staging of Mozart's Requiem paired with After Tears, a new commission by South African composer Neo Muyanga.

Collaboration is at the heart of a season which sees Opera North working with a range of regional and international partners, including Leeds-based Phoenix Dance Theatre, South Asian Arts-uk, and The University of Leeds, and South African partners Jazzart Dance Theatre and Cape Town Opera.

Supporting events and activity in the season inspired by Requiem will include participatory workshops in which Community Partnerships groups will explore movement alongside performers from Phoenix Dance Theatre and will engage directly with the rehearsal process and artistic practice of the company. Meanwhile, a series of events and an exhibition in partnership with The University of Leeds will run alongside The Pearl Fishers to explore the challenges around representation and authenticity posed by the opera's setting and text.

The Pearl Fishers

Performing The Pearl Fishers for the first time since 1995/96, when Philip Prowse's 1988 production was revived, Opera North presents Bizet's opera in a new production in Leeds, followed by a concert tour to Manchester, Hull, Gateshead and Nottingham.

Written some ten years before Carmen, The Pearl Fishers tells the story of two men, Nadir and Zurga, whose vow of friendship founders on their love for the same woman, the priestess Leïla. Bizet's music brims with lyric beauty, imaginative orchestration, magnificent choruses and gorgeous melodies, nowhere more so than in what is perhaps the best-loved tenor/baritone duet in all opera, 'Au fond du temple saint'.

Matthew Kofi Waldren conducts a cast including soprano Sophia Theodorides as Leïla, making her Opera North debut. Tenor Nico Darmanin (Alfredo, La traviata) returns to sing Nadir, whilst baritone Quirijn de Lang, whose most recent roles include Fredrik Egerman, A Little Night Music, and Count Almaviva, The Marriage of Figaro, takes the part of Zurga.

The Leeds Grand Theatre staging is directed by Matthew Eberhardt (Trouble in Tahiti, Street Scene), with design by Joanna Parker and Peter Mumford setting the work in an abstracted, dream-like space influenced by a dual metaphor of pearls as both a symbol of global trade and exploitation and of resurfacing precious memories and hidden desires.

The Pearl Fishers director, Matthew Eberhardt, comments:

"Our presentation of The Pearl Fishers uses the act of pearl fishing as a metaphor; just as pearls are pulled up from the seabed, so are the memories of the central characters exposed. Whilst the pearl represents beauty and desire, it also tells the story of obsession and greed. Our otherworldly space will allow our audience to sink deeper into this dark psychological story, allowing Bizet's score to resonate with today's audience."

Following the production at Leeds Grand Theatre which includes aspects of set and costume design, theatrical lighting and video projection, Opera North will tour a concert version of The Pearl Fishers to concert halls across the north of England, including the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, Sage Gateshead, Hull City Hall and Nottingham's Royal Concert Hall.

Requiem

Joining The Pearl Fishers in the Spring season is a new staging of Mozart's iconic Requiem, as Opera North and Phoenix Dance Theatre join forces with South African partners Jazzart Dance Theatre and Cape Town Opera as part of LEEDS 2023 Year of Culture.

Opening at Leeds Grand Theatre on Friday 26 May with performances until Sunday 4 June, Requiem follows the success of two previous collaborations between the two Leeds-based companies, The Rite of Spring (2019) and West Side Story Symphonic Dances (2021). The beauty and raw emotive power of this production combines both Mozart's awe-inspiring choral masterpiece and a newly commissioned work by South African composer Neo Muyanga with the intensely expressive physicality of two leading contemporary dance ensembles.

Mozart's fascinating final work, the Requiem is a funeral mass composed shortly before his own death at the age of 35. It is a work that vividly confronts human mortality in music of unearthly beauty, taking audiences on a journey of the soul from the agony of loss to the terror of judgement and the freedom of redemption. The production, conceived during the COVID-19 pandemic, takes Mozart's music as an act of remembrance, honouring those we have lost - and examining what life means for those left behind in a reflective and hopeful expression of the beauty, brutality and brevity of life.

Led by the creative team of Phoenix Dance Theatre guest Choreographer and former Artistic Director Dane Hurst, Opera North Music Director Garry Walker, and co-designers Joanna Parker and Peter Mumford, Requiem will be performed by dancers from the ensembles of Phoenix Dance Theatre and Jazzart Dance Theatre, the full Orchestra and 36 singers of the Chorus of Opera North. They will be joined by four guest singers: soprano Ellie Laugharne; mezzo-soprano Ann Taylor; tenor Mongezi Mosoaka; and bass Simon Shibambu.

The second half of the double bill, After Tears: After a Requiem is a new composition by Neo Muyanga for choir and chamber orchestra, conceived as a response to Mozart's Requiem. Choreographed by Jazzart Dance Theatre Artistic Director Dane Hurst for dancers from Jazzart Dance Theatre and Phoenix Dance Theatre, this new work will invoke South African cultural traditions on the themes of collective loss, the rituals of mourning and remembrance, and celebration of life. It will offer a vibrant contemporary counterpoint to the classical elegance of Mozart's choral lament.

Requiem Choreographer, Dane Hurst, comments:

"It is an incredible privilege and a great gift to be creating this new work with a team of artists and partners across the UK and South Africa. It will be a deeply moving event that honours and elevates the immense beauty, strength and fragility of life after a prolonged period of loss and darkness experienced by all since the start of the pandemic in 2020. It is a humble and sacred offering, a coming together in acknowledgement and celebration of the illuminating light of the souls who have passed onto the next journey of life and a ceremony in preparation for our continuing journey ahead."

Beyond The Pearl Fishers

Written in the mid-19th century, The Pearl Fishers' original setting in an exoticised, pre-colonial Sri Lanka was largely imagined by Bizet and his librettists and inauthentically represented within the opera itself. In a related series of events in partnership with the University of Leeds, Opera North will continue to explore some of the issues involved in presenting this and other orientalist works, creating space for critical thinking and discussion on the subjects of race, representation and authenticity this raises for us today.

The Howard Assembly Room's season of post-colonial cinema complements - and critiques - The Pearl Fishers. Films by female and global majority directors, including Claire Denis's Beau Travail (1999), Ciro Guerra's Embrace of the Serpent (2015), and Ousmane Sembène's seminal Black Girl (1966), offer a contemporary counterbalance to the opera, with introductions by specialist academics from the University of Leeds.

The Howard Assembly Room programme also features Carnatic Pearls, an intimate concert from singer Yarlinie Thanabalasingam (recently seen on the Opera North mainstage as Nambikkai/Hope in Orpheus), of South Indian and Sri Lankan classical music rooted in the region in which Bizet set his opera, presented in collaboration with South Asian Arts-uk.

The prestigious Sadler Seminar series supported by the Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute "Telling Operatic Stories: Race, ethics, and authenticity" also continues, with a public seminar planned for May 2023 alongside a day-long symposium and an exhibition at the University of Leeds Library drawing on Opera North's extensive archive and demonstrating how representation on stage has changed during the Company's 45 year performing history.

Opera North is additionally working in partnership with Your Turn Collective, a R&D incubator launched by The Pearl Fishers conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren, which connects music creators from under-represented backgrounds with partner organisations and enables them to realise their creative vision. Your Turn Collective has partnered with The University of Leeds and Opera North as part of the Sadler series to explore the history of colonialism and exoticism in the operatic canon, and the challenges facing the opera industry in presenting these works.

Previous seminars in the series over the last year have brought together leading performers, producers, creatives and academics to explore topics including decolonising opera, encountering the other, and 'After Orpheus, After Monteverdi', exploring the ways in which opera can imaginatively and innovatively bring together different traditions, myths, story-telling techniques and musical traditions.

Audiences, Access and Community Partnerships

Opera North is committed to enabling as many people as possible to experience the joy that opera and live music can give. We work hard to ensure everyone can access and enjoy our performances, both in Leeds and on tour, and offer a range of prices, membership schemes and ticket offers, including free tickets for 16 to 20-year-olds, £10 tickets for Under 30s, and £20 tickets for anyone new to attending opera. There will be English surtitles at all performances of Requiem and The Pearl Fishers, and there will also be Audio description (for blind or partially-sighted customers) at all performances of The Pearl Fishers excluding 16 and 25 May.

Our Community Partnerships scheme engages with more than 100 community groups across Leeds and West Yorkshire to strengthen relationships with the communities of Leeds and to open up music and opera to people who may have barriers preventing them from engaging fully with the arts. Since it began in 2013, the Encore community scheme has welcomed more than 14,000 attendees to our performances.

The 2023 Encore Plus Community Partners include Bradford Study Support Network which promotes social inclusion and learning across all ages and abilities; Burmantofts Senior Action which runs a programme of activities to reduce isolation among older residents; Hyde Park Source which enhances people's health and wellbeing by improving the local environment; and St. Vincent's Centre which is dedicated to changing lives through advice, support, education and community.  

Reflecting Opera North's position as the only opera company in the UK to have been awarded Theatre of Sanctuary status for its work with refugees and sanctuary seekers - an award which was renewed in 2023 - the Company is also working with Leeds Refugee Forum which helps refugees and asylum seekers in the city to rebuild their lives, and Solace which provides mental health and wellbeing support for people with experience of exile and persecution. For the third year running, as part of Refugee Week (19 - 25 June), an Open Mic Night will be held in the Howard Assembly Room to celebrate the talent of the many musicians from the refugee and asylum seeker community currently resident in West Yorkshire.




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