Leeds-based company Opera North has announced six new partners for its Encore Plus programme for this year.
Partners can attend the company’s planning meetings and are given the opportunity to host taster workshops and performances in their own venues. They also receive exclusive offers and can take advantage of discounted tickets to Opera North’s performances at Leeds Grand Theatre and in the Howard Assembly Room.
The programme is part of Opera North’s Community Partnerships project which aims to strengthen the company’s relationship with the local community in Leeds and beyond and to open up opera to people who wouldn’t usually experience it.
Encore Plus Partners are all community groups and organisations working with individuals who experience barriers that prevent them from accessing Opera North’s work.
This year’s partners include Bradford Study Support Network which promotes social inclusion and learning across all ages and abilities, and Burmantofts Senior Action which runs a programme of activities to reduce isolation among older residents.
Further new partners are Hyde Park Source which enhances people’s health and wellbeing by improving the local environment, while St Vincent’s Centre is dedicated to changing lives through advice, support, education and community.
As a Theatre of Sanctuary – an award recognising a commitment to show solidarity and welcome to those seeking sanctuary – the company has said that it is also looking forward to 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 those experiencing exile and persecution.
Being an Encore Plus Partner opens up opportunities for groups to engage more creatively with the company’s work. An example of this is a co-production last year which saw Opera North working with Leeds-based arts collective Pyramid of Arts and their High Rise Group, a band for musicians with profound and multiple learning difficulties.
The group attended a workshop held by Community Partnerships manager Zoe Scott FitzGibbon. She guided participants through the storyline of Verdi’s La traviata (The Fallen Woman, 1853) using photographs, props and some of the fabrics used to create the costumes. This was interspersed with musical excerpts from the opera performed by soprano Aimée Fisk and tenor Lawrence Thackeray.
Members of the group subsequently came to a relaxed performance of La traviata which was held especially for those requiring a more informal theatre experience. They also took a backstage tour of the Leeds Grand Theatre, allowing them to check out the technical equipment, see the musical instruments and costumes, and step out under the spotlights to get a sense of the performer experience.
Inspired by this, the High Rise group reinterpreted Verdi’s work in their own unique style, creating a new mini-opera. Picking up on some of the themes in La traviata, the piece explored the experiences of a man returning from war only to discover his sweetheart has forsaken him for another. The community co-production had its premiere in the Howard Assembly Room before an invited audience.
Fisk was in attendance. “What an amazing response to La traviata!” she commented. “It has been incredible to get involved with Pyramid, first in their home setting and then to see the final product showcasing their amazing talent and creativity.
“It’s really empowering to see in action how music can bring people together and the incredible and inventive reaction to Verdi’s music and drama. The whole event was a huge musical hug between performers and audience alike!”
Soprano Aimée Fisk performs with members of Pyramid of Arts at the Encore Plus Party (Tom Arber); the collective was one of Opera North’s Encore Plus Partners for 2022.