As the month of November approaches, we are well and truly into Autumn which can mean only one thing: the return of a new opera season.
Despite a spirited Cav/Pag and a magnificent Aida, it was a relatively quiet summer. But, with the nights drawing in, here at OperaWatch we are in full preparation for a packed programme of five operas. The OperaWatch trainee critics are looking fit after the harvesting of the Northern Soul allotment with their baskets full of mellow fruitfulness that should see them through to Christmas. It is a hard grind here and only the fittest survive.
To start, we have three full Opera North productions at The Lowry in Salford. The season opens with Puccini’s classic La Bohème on November 12 at 7.30pm. It is the heartbreaking tale of the tragic love story of Rodolfo and Mimi set in the seedy garrets of Paris as both struggle to make a living. This is a revival of Phyllida Lloyd’s staging of Puccini’s most popular and romantic opera. Opera North are offering tickets at £20 to first-time attendees through their ‘Try it ON’ scheme for all performances. I cannot recommend this piece highly enough to first-time opera-goers. It is a fantastic introduction to the wonderful world of opera. Remember to bring tissues as it will make you weep.
The following night, November 13 at 7pm, is another revival production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare. Tim Albery’s staging of this epic follows the political seduction of Julius Caesar by the beautiful Cleopatra in the struggle between the Romans and the Egyptians. The design, direction and attention to detail sound thrilling and, Boris excepted, I do love a good sex and politics story.
I return to The Lowry on November 16 at 7.30pm for a new production of the rarely performed The Greek Passion by the Czech composer, Bohuslav Martinu. Written between 1954 and 1957, it tells the effect of the arrival of refugees on a small Greek village who are in the process of rehearsing an Easter performance of the Passion Play. Its theme could hardly be more contemporary. Director Christopher Alden says that “the story which The Greek Passion tells is so moving and timely and the way in which Martinu tells it, with the music and dialogue woven together in a uniquely seamless fashion, is unlike anything else I have come across”. Opera North’s unique work with refugees has made it the only opera company to be awarded Theatre of Sanctuary status. I think it also makes this staging unmissable.
I recently saw Joanna Hogg’s film The Souvenir which featured music by Bartok, namely Bluebeard’s Castle. I was immediately struck by its drama and power. As if by design, it is being concert-staged by Opera North at Huddersfield Town Hall on November 28 at 7.30pm, followed by another performance at Leeds town Hall on November 30. Serendipity, eh?
Finally, there is the annual Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) student-led opera. This year it is the eagerly awaited Dialogues des Carmelites by Francis Poulenc. Long considered to be a 20th century masterpiece, it tells the story of the martyrdom of Carmelite nuns during the French Revolution. You can’t beat a tragic nun tale and Orpha Phelan’s new production looks set to stun. It starts on December 3 at 3pm and runs through to December 12. See the RNCM website for performance times and dates.
All told, it’s an exciting line-up and I hope that you can make to some, if not all, of this season’s brilliant productions. If you can’t, it is the 2019 OperaWatch Trainee Opera Critics Passing Out Parade soon. Last one standing gets the job.
By Robert Hamilton, Opera Correspondent