Opera North celebrates 40 years since its establishment as the opera company for the North of England with a season of contrasts at Hull New Theatre from 1 November, pairing an acclaimed new production of Tosca with a revival of its lavish staging of The Merry Widow.
Continuing its long-running partnership with the University of Hull, the Leeds-based company will be launching its week in the city on Tuesday 30 October with a round-table conversation between artists, producers, policy-makers and university researchers from across the country, asking how cultural and educational sectors can work more closely together to engage the people and communities they serve. The “Sandpit” event is a joint initiative between Opera North and the University of Hull’s Culture, Place and Policy Institute, which is leading research and evaluation around Hull UK City of Culture 2017. Opera North returned to large-scale touring to Hull last year as part of the City of Culture programme, and commissioned the popular Humber Bridge sound walk, The Height of the Reeds.
Following the discussion, at 6.30pm the Arts Café in the University’s Middleton Hall will host Opera North’s Whistle Stop Opera – a bite-sized story of comedy, deceit, love and tragedy told through famous arias and excerpts from operas in the Company’s current season, and open to all. The half-hour performance promises fun for newcomers to the art form and opera buffs alike, with three outstanding singers and an accordionist performing live at close quarters. There’s also a chance to get answers to any burning operatic questions with a Q&A at the end.
Following his 2017 production of Hansel and Gretel for Opera North, director Edward Dick’s staging of Puccini’s popular melodrama Tosca (at Hull New Theatre on Thursday 1 and Saturday 3 November) is a high-octane political thriller whose themes of love and lust, cruelty, self-sacrifice and the abuse of power are as keenly felt today as ever. A spectacular set by Tom Scutt brings together ancient and modern beneath a monumental gilt and frescoed dome, which rotates to frame the action.
Susannah Glanville takes on the role of Rome’s star opera singer, Floria Tosca, while Mexican tenor Rafael Rojas (Gustavo, Un ballo in maschera, 2018) sings Mario Cavaradossi, the artist Tosca loves and will do anything to save. Robert Hayward (Wotan, Die Walküre, 2016) sings the part of their nemesis, the corrupt Chief of Police, Scarpia. Antony Hermus conducts. The arias "Vissi d'arte" and "E lucevan le stelle" are among the best loved in all of opera, and the awesome ‘Te deum’ hymn finds the full Chorus accompanied by vast orchestral forces, organ, church bells with the same pitch as those in St Peter’s Basilica, and cannon fire every four bars.
Tosca’s tragedy is followed by a revival of Lehár’s effervescent operetta, The Merry Widow. Hanna Glawari is a young, beautiful and stupendously wealthy widow visiting Paris. Suitors clamour for her hand but the fate of her near-bankrupt home nation of Pontevedro depends on the choice she makes.
Director Giles Havergal’s stylish, witty production is complemented by Leslie Travers’ fin-de-siècle set and costume designs. Katie Bird (Kate Pinkerton, Madama Butterfly, 2018) takes the role of Hanna, with Quirijn de Lang (Sam, Trouble in Tahiti, 2017) as Count Danilo, the flighty young Pontevedrian diplomat on whom the hopes of the nation are pinned. Uniting Parisian sensuality with Viennese sophistication, The Merry Widow’s lush, glittering score is a riot of colour. Elegantly whirling between can-can, galop and waltz, it is studded with songs including Hanna’s folk-story ‘Vilja’ and the ‘Love unspoken’ duet.