The Portrait, image Bill Cooper

Richard Mantle, General Director, Opera North


2011 has kicked off in typical Opera North fashion with much excitement on and off the stage.

The company has been very busy mounting two important new productions, one of them a British premiere and the other a much talked about production of a really popular opera. Even in the current financial climate I believe we must still stick to our principles of being bold and brave. After all the essence of our art is to entertain, provoke and stimulate.

Carmen has certainly provoked and stimulated, and for a great many people has also entertained. Daniel Kramer’s production is packed full of ideas and theatricality and has undoubtedly sparked a great deal of response – positive and negative – and everyone on stage is to be admired for the energetic and enthusiastic way in which they bring this production to life.

Probably even more theatrical is David Pountney’s concept (brilliantly designed by Dan Potra) of The Portrait in the British premiere of this opera by the little known composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg. David’s total belief in this composer has taken us on a journey of discovery and there is much to admire on the stage (not least with our singers performing on stilts) and in the pit, thanks to the brilliant playing of our Orchestra.

This has absolutely been a risk worth taking and I am very proud of what everyone has achieved.

Having seen these two operas on successive nights alongside The Merry Widow, I feel we have created a real “Opera North” season – vibrant, energetic, imaginative and entertaining.

It will be interesting to see how audiences outside Leeds react when we go on tour in a week’s time.

As if all this were not enough, in the past weeks we have been celebrating the 2nd birthday of our “other” venue, the Howard Assembly Room, now playing home to a fantastically eclectic range of work, from classical to folk, from flamenco to Russian Orthodox.

This space has truly become a jewel in the crown of the arts in the North and in the weeks ahead features a major art installation combining film and Mahler, art house films, a new opera written especially for young children and great artists such as Roderick Williams and The Unthanks.

As the General Director for Opera North, my task constantly brings challenge and variety and I am a fervent supporter of our art, its diversity and the way in which we engage with so many different people.

But of course all this needs money, so much of my time is taken up with making it all happen: in the current climate this is not without significant challenge. The public sector purse, nationally and locally, has been cut and so we are having to balance ambition with financial realism, yet at the same time hold the company together and still invest in creativity ensuring that our work reaches out to as many people as possible.

Like many arts organisations we are staring at testing times ahead and I know I will have my work cut out to make a convincing case for continued investment (whether from Arts Council, our local authorities or generous individuals and supporters) in what we have to offer.

However, I am very lucky – I have a great story to tell.