For the last year, I have been working on a book about Opera North’s history and its productions in the context of opera studies. It has been a wonderfully varied time, spent in corners of rehearsal rooms and the Grand auditorium with my netbook, rifling through boxes in the basement with archive material from the company’s 33 year history and interviewing key people. With the autumn season well under way, Opera North is currently ‘the size of a small emergent nation,’ as Company Manager Jane joked the other day.

Anne Sophie Duprels as Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly

This made me reflect that there are also quite a few nations represented in the productions that are in preparation. Within the past month, a Japanese tragedy, a Victorian melodrama, a mythical tale about Gods, giants, Rhinemaidens and dwarves and a Russian tale of gambling, obsessive love and ghosts have all been in rehearsal. Japan (through the bypass of an Italian verismo opera), England, Germany (with a bit of Norse mythology) and Russia, all assembled on Opera North’s premises.

So, in order of appearance on the Grand Theatre stage: Madama Butterfly opened some weeks ago, Ruddigore moved from the subterranean rehearsal room into the Linacre Studio (much more comfortable, as it has the dimensions of the stage) and has now also opened on the stage, and The Queen of Spades inhabits the Harewood rehearsal studio, ready for the stage next week. Stage management and technical staff excel at being in the right space for the right scene
change with the right box of props.

I try to observe each production at each of its crucial stages: rehearsal room sessions, culminating in the rehearsal room run, then the Sitzprobe in the Howard Assembly Room, the first time singers and orchestra come together. I will then see the production transfer onto the stage, still with piano, but already with costumes, make up and lighting. After the piano dress rehearsal, I will watch the orchestra and singers grow together during the stage and orchestra rehearsals. Finally, the dress rehearsal marks the transition to the performance with some people in the auditorium, and normally running flawlessly, due to the streamlined and honed processes that have lead up to it. It is the culmination of the efforts of everyone involved in the journey from first model showing to curtain up on the first night. After getting absorbed in the production process, I will turn my attention to the finished performance and its public reception, as both are important in the context of the book.

I will be writing a loose series of blogs on rehearsals, starting with some rehearsals I observed for Ruddigore, which you can read about here. More soon!

Dr Kara McKechnie lectures in theatre and performance at the University of Leeds. Her book on Opera North will be published by Emerald in early 2013.