Opera North’s 2023-24 season comprises four new productions and three revivals of old favourites. Among the new works is Masque of Might, a new piece by world-renowned theatre director Sir David Pountney.
Masque of Might adapts the music of English baroque composer Henry Purcell to create a contemporary satire described as an ‘eco-entertainment’. The libretto draws largely from original texts set to music by Purcell, and addresses urgently topical themes such as the abuses of a powerful political leader and the climate crisis.
In this world premiere, Diktat is a tyrannical ruler unleashing chaos on the planet. But, as a band of unlikely heroes forms, launching a battle of biblical proportions, can the shattered world heal in time?
Baroque specialist Harry Bicket conducts a cast that includes Icelandic bass-baritone Andri Björn Róbertsson as Nebulous/Activist/Wolf, American soprano Anna Dennis as Elena, a spirit of the Heavens, and British bass Callum Thorpe as Diktat. The opera runs from 6 October-16 November.
Masque of Might is part of Opera North’s Green Season: a series of three operas that are fully sustainable. The three productions use shared scenic elements to create three interlinked yet distinctive designs, enabling Opera North to reduce its use of materials and its carbon footprint.
All sets, props and costumes in the season are sourced from previous productions or purchased secondhand.
Also part of the Green Season, and launching the 2023 programme, is a new production of Verdi’s Falstaff (1893). The production opens on 28 September and runs to 18 November.
Drawing inspiration from Shakespeare’s plays Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor, Verdi’s comic masterpiece sees its down-on-his-luck hero try to seduce two wealthy widows. But they are more than a match for Falstaff and plot to teach him a lesson.
This new production is directed by Jo Davies and conducted by Opera North’s music director Garry Walker. Kent-born bass-baritone Henry Waddington sings the title role, with British soprano Kate Royal and British-Cuban mezzo-soprano Helen Évora as Alice Ford and Meg Page, respectively, the two women he tries to trick.
The third opera in the Green Season is a new production of Puccini’s La rondine (The Swallow, 1917). James Hurley’s reimagining transports us from the popular night spots of 1930s Paris to the sun-drenched Mediterranean, contrasting two bitter-sweet tales of love.
Magda, the mistress of a rich banker, has fallen for the young, ardent Ruggero. Chasing their dreams of true love, they run away together. Meanwhile, Magda’s maid Lisette takes up with the poet Prunier, who tries to put her on the stage. Can their relationship survive this disaster? And will Magda’s past stand between her and happiness?
Kerem Hasan conducts a cast including Russian soprano Galina Averina as Magda, Lancashire-born soprano Claire Lees as Lisette, French tenor Sébastien Guèze as Ruggero and Welsh tenor Elgan Llŷr Thomas as Prunier.
Richard Mantle, Opera North’s general director, commented: “Opera North is a company which constantly innovates and evolves in response to a changing world. No challenge is more urgent for us all than the climate crisis, and we are committed to the positive change that we – along with all our colleagues in the music and theatre sectors – must make in order to reduce our environmental impact and run our operation more sustainably.
“Our creative teams for the Green Season have embraced these challenges with imagination and invention, and I am confident that the resulting productions will bear all the hallmarks of excellence and innovation audiences expect from Opera North.”
The company’s winter 2024 season opens with a revival of Britten’s comedy Albert Herring (1947). May Day is looming and in the small town of Loxford all the potential May Queens have been deemed morally unsuitable. Desperate, the locals decide a May King will have to do instead.
They choose the blameless Albert Herring from the greengrocers. He isn’t keen, but stuck firmly under his mother’s thumb, he’ll do what he is told. However, after one rum-laced lemonade at the May Day ceremony, Albert disappears, and chaos ensues.
A cast including English soprano Dame Josephine Barstow as Lady Billows, Welsh tenor Dafydd Jones as Herring and English mezzo-soprano Claire Pascoe as his mother will be conducted by Garry Walker The production will also be filmed and streamed online for free in partnership with OperaVision.
Another of opera’s great comedies, Mozart’s Così fan tutte (Women are Like That, 1790), also returns to the stage. Tim Albery’s classic production, set in the 18th century Age of Reason, will feature a new cast including Spanish-born British soprano Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi and British mezzo-soprano Heather Lowe as Dorabella.
Hereford-born tenor Anthony Gregory and British baritone Henry Neill are their duplicitous lovers Ferrando and Guglielmo, who enter a wager to prove that each can seduce the other’s fiancée. Performances will be conducted by Clemens Schuldt and Chloe Rooke, both making their Opera North debuts.
The final production in the winter season is a double-bill pairing a revival of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic Chivalry, 1890) with a new production of Rachmaninov’s rarely performed Aleko (1893). Karolina Sofulak directs both halves of the double-bill, which will be conducted by Antony Hermus.
With shared themes of faithlessness, betrayal and revenge the two operas share several cast members. In Cavallearia rusticana, Turiddù and Lola were once lovers, but when he left to join the army, Lola married another man. Although Turridù finds consolation in the arms of Santuzza, his obsessive passion for Lola still burns fiercely.
Aleko tells of the eponymous hero who turned his back on the restrictions of conventional society and joined a marginalised community where he fell in love with a young woman, Zemfira. But her love for him has grown cold and she finds solace in the arms of a young lover.
English bass-baritone Robert Hayward sings Alfio in Cavalleria rusticana and the title role in Aleko. Belfast-born soprano Giselle Allen returns to the cast of Cavalleria rusticana to sing Santuzza, joined by Uruguayan tenor Andrés Presno as Turiddù, while in Aleko Presno will take the role of young lover, with Welsh soprano Elin Pritchard as Zemfira. British mezzo-soprano Anne-Marie Owens joins both casts to sing Lucia in Cavalleria rusticana and Baboushka in Aleko.
Tickets for all productions are on sale now. All date, time, venue and price information is available from Opera North.
Belfast-born soprano Giselle Allen will reprise her role as Santuzza in a revival of Cavalleria rusticana as part of Opera North’s 2023-24 season, which also includes the world premiere of Sir David Pountney’s Masque of Might (Robert Workman).