Richard Mantle, General Director gives an overview of the 2011/12 season

Our new season is distinguished by ambitious new productions, revivals that showcase the work of the Company at its best, and the second part of our epic journey through Wagner’s Ring cycle.  Bringing these works to the stage are leading international singers and creative teams, of a calibre that will ensure that Opera North maintains its position as one of the best-regarded arts companies in the European arena.  At the same time, we reaffirm our commitment to being England’s national opera company, by making our work widely available both in the regions and in the capital.

The new productions this season are of three operas that are each, in their own very different ways, epics.  Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, Handel’s Giulio Cesare and Bellini’s Norma are all works that represent their respective composers at their finest.  They are complemented by revivals of two immensely popular productions that demonstrate the renowned versatility of the Company, encompassing both the deep tragedy of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and the comic high spirits of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddigore.  The season is crowned by staged concert performances of Wagner’s Die Walküre, perhaps the most immediately appealing of the four Ring operas.

We’re proud to have assembled an impressive array of international talent to bring the season to the stage.  In Madama Butterfly, French soprano Anne Sophie Duprels, who gave an infinitely touching portrayal of Cio-Cio-San when our production was new four years ago, returns to the role, and is paired in the autumn by the young American tenor Noah Stewart, a new face at Opera North.  In the winter, the experienced Mexican tenor Rafael Rojas takes over the role of Pinkerton.  The conducting duties are shared between two dynamic young conductors whose careers we have been following with keen interest for some time now: the Italian Daniele Rustioni in the autumn and the Russian Mikhail Tatarnikov in the winter.

Grant Doyle as Robin Oakapple and Amy Freston as Rose Maybud

Jo Davies’s production of Ruddigore in 2010 revivified a work that was saddled with a reputation as something of a problem child, and in the process created a whole new generation of G&S enthusiasts.  So we’re delighted that all of the original cast return to their roles for the revival of a production which, I think it’s fair to say, sets a new benchmark for the work in the 21st century – especially under the musical direction of the uniquely talented John Wilson.

The Queen of Spades is, if anything, an even more emotionally shattering work than the same composer’s Eugene Onegin.  We have long wanted to stage it, but not until we felt sure that we had all the right elements in place.  Those elements include a high-calibre cast throughout the order, and that we feel we have with Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, our outstanding Peter Grimes of a few years ago, as Herman; the wonderful Irish soprano Orla Boylan as Lisa; William Dazeley, whose beautifully-sung Posa was a highlight of our recent Don Carlos, as Prince Yeletsky; and – first among equals – Dame Josephine Barstow making a very welcome return to the Company for the first time in many years in the pivotal role of the Countess.  It’s hard to think of another director who has produced such a great diversity of theatre work at such a consistently high level of achievement than the multi-talented Neil Bartlett, and his passion for Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece is palpable in his every word on the subject.

It’s been very many years since Handel, one of the greatest geniuses to have composed opera, made an appearance in our repertoire.  We therefore felt that we should give audiences outside London the opportunity to experience an absolute masterpiece – in this case, Giulio Cesare – rather than one of the lesser-known works, whatever treasures these often seem to yield in performance.  Tim Albery seemed to us to be the ideal director for what is essentially an intimate drama of passionate extremes that reverberate throughout the world, such is the power and position of the protagonists.  Handel’s is above all a singer’s opera, so we delighted to have engaged such important talents as Pamela Helen Stephen, who, before she went on to a major international career, made an early appearance at Opera North in Chabrier’s L’étoile, in the title, and Sarah Tynan, who makes her Company debut as Cleopatra.   Robert Howarth, a rising star in the Baroque firmament, conducts a work whose every number seems jewel-like in its perfection.

The music of Bellini’s Norma is some of the best-loved in the bel canto repertoire, and Norma herself was, of course, one of Maria Callas’s signature roles.  The opera itself is not often staged in this country however, and director Christopher Alden was greatly intrigued by the dramatic potential of the work when we discussed it with him.  He is reunited for this production with the American soprano Takesha Meshé Kizart, an electrifying Tosca here in 2008, in the title role, whilst the Mexican tenor Luis Chapa makes his first appearance with us as Pollione.  Distinguished Slovakian maestro Oliver von Dohnányi sets the seal on an event that promises to deliver a high-voltage experience.

In Die Walküre, we continue our policy of casting seasoned international Wagnerian singers with established British performers.  Thus the Hungarian baritone Béla Perencz, Swedish soprano Annalena Persson and Swedish mezzo Katarina Karnéus are joined by Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, Alwyn Mellor and Clive Bayley in what is a very strong line-up.  As well as lighting the performance, the highly experienced director and designer Peter Mumford will create a concert staging that aims to provide a wholly absorbing environment for Wagner’s music drama.

None of this would be possible without a vital combination of public and private investment, and of course income from the box office.  We are immensely grateful to our corporate and individual supporters for their generosity.  Such support has never been more important to us than it is now, and we urge you to visit the Opera North website to find out how you can help sustain the excellence and innovation for which Opera North is renowned.

2011/12 is a season of epic musical, dramatic and emotional journeys, which we feel offer a fascinating range of rich and diverse operatic experiences.  We hope you can join us often along the way.