Recognising that talented female conductors are less likely to find a way into opera than their male counterparts, Opera North has launched a new residency scheme for women conductors, the Leeds-based company has announced.

The 10-week programme, aimed at female conductors who have shown extraordinary potential and who are at the start of promising careers in opera, is spread across a full opera season, and will include observing opera rehearsals, being mentored by Opera North’s music staff and guest conductors, and engaging with the company’s education and outreach programmes.

Enabled by the Harewood Young Artists Fund, the scheme launched at the beginning of the 2019-20 season, which includes productions of core operatic repertoire such as La bohème (The Bohemians, Puccini, 1896) and The Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart, 1786), alongside lesser known works including Martinů’s The Greek Passion (1961).

The first participant is French conductor Sonia Ben-Santamaria. Sonia was a young trainee repetiteur at the English National Opera and the National Opera Studio, after graduating from the Royal Academy of Music and the Conservatoire National de Toulouse, France. She was the first female conductor associated as a link artist to the Royal Opera House Jette Parker Young Artist Programme. She made her UK opera conducting debut at Opera Holland Park last June, with two performances of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball, 1859).

Richard Mantle, general director at Opera North, commented: “Conducting is a key area within the classical music industry which historically has been dominated by men. We hope that this residency opportunity can help to address the gender imbalance in conducting by encouraging more female musicians to see opera as a viable career path, and to ensure that Opera North and the wider opera industry is drawing on the widest range of professional conducting talent now and in the future. We look forward greatly to welcoming Sonia Ben-Santamaria into the company as our first associate assistant conductor.”

The residency is seen as a first stage of engagement, with Opera North continuing to build an ongoing relationship with the successful participant after the initial 10 weeks. The programme will be specially tailored each year to develop the skills of each participant, and will include conducting opportunities in rehearsals, acting, coaching singers and working closely with guest conductors on a range of operas within the season.



French conductor Sonia Ben-Santamaria has been announced as Opera North’s first associate assistant conductor (Roger Way).