Opera North is an English opera company based in Leeds. The company's home theatre is the Leeds Grand Theatre, but it also presents regular seasons in several other cities, at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, the Lowry Centre, Salford Quays and the Theatre Royal, Newcastle. The Company's orchestra, the Orchestra of Opera North, regularly performs and records in its own right. Operas are performed either in English translation or in the original language of the libretto, in the latter case usually with surtitles.
Opera North was established in 1977 as English National Opera North, as an offshoot of English National Opera, with the specific intention of delivering high-quality opera to the northern areas of England which, up to that point, had had no permanently established opera company. The company gave its first performance, of Saint-Saëns's Samson and Delilah, on 15 November 1978. The founding Music Director of the company was David Lloyd-Jones, who held the post until 1990. In 1981, the company's name was changed to Opera North, and the official ties with English National Opera ceased to exist.
Paul Daniel became the company's second music director, serving in the post from 1990 to 1997. With general administrators Nicholas Payne and, later, Ian Ritchie and Richard Mantle, the company continued to bring operatic novelties, as well as a wide selection of familiar works, to its audience in the North of England and further afield. Following Daniel's departure, Elgar Howarth held the temporary post of Music Advisor, until Steven Sloane became Music Director in 1999.
Richard Farnes became music director in 2004. Achievements during his tenure included the company's first staging of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, over a span of 4 years. Farnes stood down as music director after the 2015-2016 season.
In October 2015, Aleksandar Markovi? made his first appearance as guest conductor with the company. In February 2016, the company announced the appointment of Markovi? as its next music director, effective with the 2016-2017 season. His first production as music director of the company was in September 2016, with Der Rosenkavalier. On 18 April 2017, Opera North announced that Markovi? had resigned as the company's music director, with his contract formally to terminate in July 2017, but where he is not to appear with the company for the remainder of the 2016-2017 season.
In June 2019, Opera North announced the appointments of Garry Walker as its next music director, and of Antony Hermus as its new principal guest conductor. Walker is scheduled to take up the post as of the 2020-2021 season.
As well as presenting the bread-and-butter operas of the standard repertory, the company has performed a number of operas that are rarely seen in Britain. Examples include:
In 2011, the company performed The Portrait by Mieczys?aw Weinberg and initiated an annual series of semi-staged concert performances of the four operas in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen by performing Das Rheingold in Leeds Town Hall. Beached, a community opera by composer Harvey Brough with a libretto by Lee Hall co-commissioned by Opera North and the sea-side resort of Bridlington premiered on 15 July 2011.
At the request of the Bridlington primary school whose 300 children performed in the opera, the company asked for the removal of an explicit reference to a gay character's sexuality from one of the scenes. Hall initially refused, and the opera was withdrawn. However, following negotiations the matter was resolved when the character's contentious line "Of course I'm queer" was changed to "Of course I'm gay".
Opera North has given world premières of the following operas: Rebecca by Wilfred Josephs (1983), Caritas by Robert Saxton (1991), Baa, Baa, Black Sheep by Michael Berkeley (1993), Playing Away by Benedict Mason (1994), The Nightingale's to Blame by Simon Holt (1998), Jonathan Dove's The Adventures of Pinocchio (2007) and Swanhunter (2009), and Skin Deep by David Sawer and Armando Iannucci (2009). In July 2009, Opera North premièred Prima Donna, a new opera by Rufus Wainwright, at the Manchester International Festival.
Opera North has also given performances of musical theatre works. The first was Jerome Kern's Show Boat (in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company) in 1989, and productions of Gershwin's Of Thee I Sing and Sondheim's Sweeney Todd followed in 1998. A joint production with West Yorkshire Playhouse of Sondheim's Into the Woods was staged in Leeds in 2016. Latterly, the works of Kurt Weill have become something of a speciality, with productions of Love Life (1996), One Touch of Venus and The Seven Deadly Sins in 2004, Arms and the Cow in 2006, and Street Scene in 2020. In 2009, Let 'Em Eat Cake, the sequel to Of Thee I Sing, was produced, and in 2012 Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel was performed in Leeds, Salford and London..
Opera North has worked extensively with electronic composer Mira Calix, commissioning Dead Wedding (for the Manchester International Festival 2007) Onibus (2008) and the installation Chorus (2009) for the opening of the Howard Assembly Rooms with visual artist UVA.