Opera North’s Switch ON is a new programme of outdoor events and digital projects that will take place across the north of England in the coming months, the Leeds-based opera company has announced.

The company was forced to postpone its previously planned season of large-scale operas, which was due to tour theatres across the north of England from September, when the Covid-19 health crisis hit. The new programme respects the latest government guidelines on social distancing and live performances, which are not currently permitted to take place indoors.

The Switch ON projects include As You Are, a new soundwalk for Leeds by South African cellist and composer Abel Selaocoe, which will open in November; a digital premiere of Will Todd’s community opera, Song of Our Heartland; and a new animation re-interpreting La bohème (The Bohemians, Puccini, 1896) to be shown in cities across the north in the run up to Christmas.

Richard Mantle, general director of Opera North, commented: “We are extremely pleased to be able to announce such varied projects as the first newly planned activity for this autumn. Switch ON is our first step back to sharing music and performance with audiences in villages, towns and cities across the north of England.

“We have not been silent during lockdown, with thousands of people from around the world engaging with films of our work online from the Ring Cycle to The Turn of the Screw, and over 1,000 amateur singers taking part in weekly lessons alongside the Chorus of Opera North in From Couch to Chorus, but we are delighted now to be announcing this first selection of new work.”

Composed by South African cellist Abel Selaocoe, As You Are is an interactive outdoor soundwalk around Leeds. It will start and end at Victoria Gate, following a route exploring many of the city centre’s most recognisable landmarks.

People taking part in the soundwalk will be limited to small groups. Each attendee will be given a set of headphones connected to a wireless receiver, triggering new musical chapters at different points on the walk.

“It is exciting to be writing during a time of incredible personal and collective change,” composer Selaocoe commented. “Focusing on the importance of celebrating resilience and being adaptable to change, by walking and exploring what is around us while we listen.”

As You Are will run from 14 November 2020-6 January 2021. Tickets go on sale later this month.

A new community opera, Song of Our Heartland was originally due to premiere at Locomotion in Shildon, Co Durham, in May 2020. Written by Durham-born composer Will Todd, with a plot by Caroline Clegg and libretto by Emma Jenkins, the opera tells the story of three generations of indomitable women.

Following the cancellation of rehearsals and performances earlier in the year, the piece will now be recreated digitally, with different elements recorded separately under social-distancing guidelines and pieced together as a 60-minute film. The film is expected to be released in October 2020.

The final project announced for this autumn is an animation re-imagining Act III of Puccini’s La bohème, snipped from black paper and animated by artist and filmmaker Matthew Robins with his unique eye for emotion and humour.

“I like trying to find my own way into telling a story that already exists – how can I make these characters mine? Do I see myself or my friends’ lives reflected in them?” Robins said. “Working with cut-out silhouettes is a way to create my own stylised version of the big emotions and melodies that are intrinsic to the piece – the stylised cut-out paper shapes are detailed but leave room for the audience to add their own imagination as well to the piece.”

The finished animation will be projected outdoors onto walls in found spaces in towns and cities across the north of England, with limited audiences at each screening listening via headphones. Dates and locations are still to be confirmed.

Richard Mantle added: “Tickets for Switch ON events will all be accessibly priced and we hope as many people as possible will have the opportunity to experience music with us either live or digitally.

“We remain committed to our purpose, and whatever challenges we face, Opera North will continue to use music to create extraordinary experiences every day for and with the communities we serve. Live or digitally, in classrooms, theatres, homes and public spaces, we will continue to share music with people of all ages and backgrounds.”



Cellist and composer Abel Selaocoe has created a new soundwalk for Leeds as part of Opera North’s Switch ON programme (Mlungisi Mlungwana).