Professor Edward Venn has been announced as Opera North’s new Academic in Residence. He will spend a year with the Leeds-based company, bringing together diverse voices from all areas of the performing arts and academia for a series of discussions, events and an exhibition focusing on race, ethics and representation in operatic storytelling.
Venn is a professor of music at the University of Leeds, where his specialities include opera studies, music theory and music analysis. He holds a Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music (LRSM) in conducting and is an active performer, having directed the York Symphony Orchestra, Morecambe and District Philharmonic Choir and Lancashire Chamber Orchestra, among others.
Professor Venn’s programme of activity as Academic in Residence began with the webinar Telling Operatic Stories: Race, Ethics and Authenticity. Open to all, this Zoom event will shape the course of five further seminars examining opera’s often unedifying historical attitudes to non-western or minority cultures, and exploring Opera North productions past, present and future.
The panel for the seminars includes musicologist and cultural historian assistant professor Imani Mosley of the School of Music, University of Florida, Matthew Kofi Waldren, conductor and co-founder of Your Turn Collective, which works in support of classical music creators from under-represented backgrounds, and academics from the University of Leeds.
The seminars will explore issues of race and ethics in opera, looking particularly at Opera North productions past, present and future.
Venn will be given the unique opportunity to experience the company’s rehearsals and day-to-day activity, which, he hopes, will give him the opportunity to bring theory and practice together to look at how the arts industry can move forward to provide space to ‘other voices, telling other stories’.
Over the past few weeks, he has been sitting in on rehearsals for Orpheus: Monteverdi Reimagined, Opera North and South Asian Arts-uk’s new take on Monteverdi’s seminal 1607 opera that weaves together Indian classical and western baroque music.
This ground-breaking new production will be the subject of Professor Venn’s second event, After Orpheus, After Monteverdi. This in-person workshop will take place at the Howard Opera Centre, Leeds, on 21 October.
Guests including the opera’s co-music director and Opera North Artist in Residence Jasdeep Singh Degun will convene to examine creative collaborations between different musical traditions, with a pre-recorded contribution from India-born, Australia-based Carnatic singer Charulatha Mani. This event is free; further information is available from Opera North.
“The opportunity to attend rehearsals and model showings for Orpheus has given me a wonderful insight into the creative thinking behind this adaption of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo,” Venn commented.
“In particular, co-music directors Jasdeep Singh Degun and Laurence Cummings’ bringing together of their respective traditions has resulted in the cast and musicians having to confront and experience two very different musical practices.
“Understanding the challenges that singers and instrumentalists alike have overcome in their encounters with a different tradition, and seeing how this gives rise to authentic performances, has been truly revelatory.”
The conclusion of Professor Venn’s tenure will coincide with Opera North’s production of The Pearl Fishers, Bizet’s 1863 opera featuring one of the best-loved duets in the canon, in an exoticised ancient Sri Lankan setting that presents difficulties for contemporary productions.
As part of a series of events presented alongside the opera – which will be conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren – Professor Venn will curate an exhibition at the University of Leeds’ Brotherton Gallery. Venturing into the Opera North archive, he will examine how the company has engaged with issues of race and representation over the course of its four-decade history.
Professor Venn’s progress as Academic in Residence can be followed via the project Twitter account @operaticstories.
Professor Edward Venn will be Opera North’s Academic in Residence for 2022-23 (University of Leeds).