Leeds-based company Opera North has revealed a new programme of homegrown talent to take place in the recently refurbished Howard Assembly Room when it opens in October. The events will bring artists and organisations from the north and performers from the company’s ensembles to the stage, putting the venue at the heart of its community.
The programme is set to reflect Opera North’s status as a Theatre of Sanctuary, as well as its close relationships with local arts organisations and charities and its work in education and outreach.
Launched by City of Sanctuary in partnership with Counterpoint Arts, Theatre of Sanctuary is a title awarded to venues and theatre companies that demonstrate a commitment to welcoming and celebrating refugees and those seeking sanctuary in the UK. In 2018 Opera North became the first opera company in the country to be awarded this status in recognition of its work to make refugees and asylum seekers feel valued and celebrated.
Marking this, a Theatre of Sanctuary Open Mic Night will come to the Howard Assembly Room stage on 26 October. Part of Platforma, a biennial festival of arts by, with and about refugees, the event features performances by musicians from the refugee and sanctuary-seeker community in West Yorkshire, plus a headline set from Stone Flowers, a Manchester-based collective of musicians who have fled conflict. South African singer-songwriter Thandanani Gumede hosts the evening.
The Twilight Concerts series of early evening recitals feature Opera North’s ensembles and guest artists. These start on 20 October, as international opera singers currently performing in Opera North’s new production of Carmen (Bizet, 1875) exchange Leeds Grand Theatre for a more intimate stage to sing songs from their homelands and on the theme of wandering. They include American soprano Chrystal E Williams in the role of Carmen and New Zealand baritone Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo.
Williams returns on 7 November with Italian-Brazilian soprano Camila Titinger – Carmen’s rival, Micaëla – for a special Sunday afternoon concert: a recital of songs by, for and about women who break the rules, drawn from jazz, spiritual and popular song, as well as classical opera.
A centre of excellence for Indian classical music and dance in Leeds, South Asian Arts-uk (SAA-uk) is a regular collaborator of Opera North. The organisation returns on 23 October for a tribute to the life and poetry of singer and composer Jagjit Singh, the legendary ‘King of the Ghazals’, featuring renowned ghazal singer and composer Tauseef Akhtar. To mark the Winter Solstice on 21 December, SAA-uk presents Carnatic singer Supriya Nagarajan performing with members of the Orchestra of Opera North amid projections of a starlit night.
The Brudenell Piano Sessions bring emerging artists from Leeds and beyond to the Howard Assembly Room’s Steinway piano for the first time from 24 October. Hosted and curated by pianist and composer Simeon Walker, these diverse and intimate Sunday get-togethers in collaboration with the Brudenell Social Club will provide a stage for composers working with the keyboard in a variety of disciplines, from contemporary classical and music for film to electronic experimentation and improvisation.
On 27 October, the doors of the Howard Assembly Room and Howard Opera Centre will be thrown open as audiences are invited to explore behind the scenes at Opera North, discovering what goes into making the company’s work and visiting the new rehearsal spaces created as part of the Music Works transformation. The following day, a Family Day will feature workshops, art and music sessions and a musical trail connecting the Howard Assembly Room and the Howard Opera Centre to the wider city centre.
Composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Bill Laurance will perform an intimate trio show on 18 November. The four-time Grammy Award-winning pianist honed his keyboard skills at grassroots venues in Leeds before embarking on an international career with jazz fusion and funk band Snarky Puppy.
Manchester Collective make their long-awaited Howard Assembly Room debut on 5 December with the first of three shows. Heavy Metal is a daring programme featuring work by British-Bulgarian composer Dobrinka Tabakova, Bryce Dessner of The National and a new commission by music producer and composer Sebastian Gainsborough, known as Vessel.
Heading into next year, The Oracle, on 8 April 2022, sees cellist and composer Abel Selaocoe exploring traditional music from across Africa and presenting a brand-new composition, joined by his band Chesaba and the Collective’s strings.
The programme also includes live soundtracks, film screenings, acoustic works, orchestral suites and more. See Opera North’s website for full details and to book tickets.
“The homegrown season is very close to our hearts right now, and we’re thrilled to be celebrating the connections between the local and the international,” Dominic Gray, projects director at Opera North, commented.
“Being a Theatre of Sanctuary opens us up to the diverse and rich communities making their homes in our city, and our Open Mic Night will give a showcase to some amazing music and voices. With incredible Leeds partners such as South Asian Arts-uk and the Brudenell Social Club, we can present new music that won’t be heard anywhere else, and from our mainstage opera company international guest singers will give rare, small-scale recitals, that bring us all close to the essence of the human voice.”
Manchester-based collective Stone Flowers will headline Opera North’s Theatre of Sanctuary Open Mic Night as part of its homegrown programme.