Exciting news from Opera North about its 2021/22 reopening


Opera North announces five new productions for its 2021/22 season and an eclectic programme of live music in the Howard Assembly Room, marking a crucial and celebratory moment for the national opera company in the North this Autumn as it also reopens its buildings in central Leeds following a transformational £18 million capital redevelopment programme, Music Works.

The completion of Music Works will see Opera North move back into greatly enhanced and expanded rehearsal facilities in the Howard Opera Centre, as well as opening a new Education Studio. The Howard Assembly Room will reopen in October 2021 for its first events since March 2019, with a diverse artistic programme of gigs, recitals, new commissions, installations, talks and film screenings now matched with improved front-of-house visitor facilities and a new restaurant and bar on New Briggate, Leeds. The transformed estate will be open for everyone to experience, to learn and to make music, and will be a key visitor destination for the heritage quarter surrounding the Grand Theatre, where Opera North is a regular company in residence.

The new 2021/22 season, which is Opera North’s first full season in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, follows a tour of Fidelio and a co-production with Leeds Playhouse of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music in Spring/Summer 2021.

The 2021/22 season opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on 2 October 2021 with a new production of Bizet’s Carmen, conducted by Garry Walker in his first production as Opera North’s new Music Director. The Company’s first Carmen in over a decade is directed by Edward Dick, with American mezzo-soprano Chrystal E. Williams in the title role and Canadian tenor Antoine Bélanger as Don José.

A double-bill of works by Leonard Bernstein sees a revival of his one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti paired with a new co-production of West Side Story Symphonic Dances in collaboration with Phoenix Dance Theatre. Conducted by Antony Hermus, Opera North’s Principal Guest Conductor and choreographed by Phoenix Dance Theatre’s recently appointed Artistic Director Dane Hurst, Symphonic Dances will be an entirely new dance work, interpreting Bernstein’s thrilling music in an exploration of identity and conflict.

Performances of Carmen continue into Winter 2022, joined by a new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto, conducted by Garry Walker and directed by the British Nigerian actor/director Femi Elufowoju Jr. in his operatic debut, with Eric Greene singing the title role in a cast also including Sir Willard White and Roman Arndt. A new production of Handel’s Alcina, Opera North’s first environmentally sustainable production, is conducted by Laurence Cummings and directed by Tim Albery, with Máire Flavin as Alcina and Patrick Terry as Ruggiero.

The year is completed by a rescheduled tour of Wagner’s Parsifal, which will open at Leeds Grand Theatre before touring to concert halls across the country including a London venue to be announced, in what will surely be one of the must-see operatic events of 2022. The Company’s former Music Director, Richard Farnes, returns to Opera North to conduct a superb cast including Brindley Sherratt as Gurnemanz and Toby Spence as Parsifal, both in role debuts. PJ Harris (Salome) directs this new concert staging, which continues Opera North’s acclaimed strand of large-scale works presented dramatically in concert halls.

All productions will open at Leeds Grand Theatre before touring. Tickets for events in the 2021/22 season will be on sale from June, with audience capacities following the most up-to-date government guidelines. Opera North will continue to work closely with partner venues to ensure that the safety and comfort of all audience members, staff and performers remains the highest priority. More information and the latest guidance on COVID measures can be found here.

Howard Assembly Room reopening season

The Music Works redevelopment is creating a new fully accessible entrance, box office, bar and restaurant, public atrium, and improved front-of-house facilities for the Howard Assembly Room, Opera North’s 300-seat venue on New Briggate, Leeds.

Closed since redevelopment work began in March 2019, the Howard Assembly Room will reopen in October 2021. Its eclectic programme bridges the classical and the contemporary, showcasing top international touring artists from a diverse range of genres including jazz, folk, and world music, classical recitals, chamber opera, films, talks, installations and family events.

Artists already confirmed for the Howard Assembly Room’s reopening season include the duo of legendary reeds maestro Courtney Pine and the brilliant, MOBO Award-winning pianist Zoe Rahman, and another virtuoso pairing in Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and Senegalese kora master Seckou Keita.

Leveret, the outstanding trio of Andy Cutting, Sam Sweeney and Rob Harbron, put a thrilling spin on the English tradition, while at the furthest reaches of folk, Richard Dawson brings outernational influences, a wildly original guitar style and a gift for contemporary storytelling. A new commission for Opera North Projects’ FILMusic strand sees Leeds pianist Matthew Bourne performing a new live soundtrack to F. W. Murnau’s 1927 masterpiece Sunrise. In October, for Leeds Light Night 2021, the Howard Assembly Room will be transformed through a new and immersive installation on the theme of environmental crisis, featuring live music, lighting and sound design.

Making Music

As the Music Works redevelopment work enters its final stages, Opera North is today launching a new campaign to drive donations to complete the project and fill the new spaces with music. The names of Making Music supporters will become part of a new installation symbolising a musical score. Wrapping around the central staircase in the new glass atrium, the installation will celebrate the making of music in the heart of the building.

To become part of this new artwork by placing a note, supporters can choose a note size, and add a personal message along with their donation of £250 (small note), £350 (medium note) or £500 (large note), which will help Opera North to create a space for everyone, where talent can be nurtured and developed, where artists can make thrilling music and where audiences can be inspired.

Significantly enhanced facilities for the Company are being created in the revitalised and expanded Howard Opera Centre, named in honour of major donor Dr Keith Howard, with new facilities including a new music rehearsal studio for the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North, coaching rooms, a new green room for artists, and a new Education Studio to provide a permanent home for the Company’s extensive learning and participation activity. Opening in Summer 2021, initial activity in the Howard Opera Centre will include a wide range of youth training ensembles for young musicians, including the Opera North Youth Company and new Opera North Youth Orchestra.

Opera North has been a Theatre of Sanctuary since 2018, but this is the first time the Company will have a building of its own into which it can invite refugees and people seeking sanctuary. They, along with over 100 community groups will be able to take part in the wider programme of workshops, residencies and access to performances in the new spaces.

Funding for the £18 million Music Works programme has come from a range of sources, including an extraordinary gift of £11.25 million from Dr Keith Howard, Opera North’s President and a long-term supporter of the Company. A significant donation of £1 million was made by The Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation, who have been joined by a number of other trusts and foundations in giving support, as well as many individuals donating via the Play Your Part campaign. Arts Council England has supported the project with a grant of £499,999 in 2018 through the Small Capital Grants scheme, bolstered in 2020 by a Capital Kickstart award of £500,000 by Arts Council England and DCMS as part of the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund in response to the economic impact of the COVID pandemic on the arts industries. For more on Music Works click here. To donate to Making Music and to place a note on our new artwork click here.


Furthering Opera North’s commitment to accessibility, the 2021-22 season doubles the number of audio-described productions, to four. For the tour of Parsifal to concert halls, we will be broadcasting pre-recorded audio description to mobile devices for all performances, ensuring audience members can enjoy an opera sung in another language if they are no longer able to read the surtitles. We are delighted to be the first opera company to offer this service after successful trials over the last two years.

Selected performances of Carmen in the Winter season will be offered with BSL interpretation, and following on from the first ever dementia-friendly full-length opera in the country in October 2019, we have programmed a second, this time a matinee of Carmen in October.

All performances throughout the year will be surtitled and will be accompanied by online audio notes, including details of how the staging and costumes look for people who are blind or partially-sighted.

Digital projects

An increased focus on digital projects additionally sees Opera North preparing the Howard Assembly Room to be a digital concert hall, with increased capabilities for capture, streaming and digital broadcast from and within the venue once it reopens. Also announced today is a new project in partnership with Sky Studios, Resonance: Connect, part of the Company’s strand of residencies with artists from minority ethnic backgrounds. The Sky Studios partnership will create new opportunities for musicians to collaborate with filmmakers, technologists and digital artists on a series of short films. Further digital plans within the year include a broadcast of the new production of Alcina in partnership with the European online opera channel, OperaVision.

Richard Mantle, General Director, Opera North, comments: The coming year will be a hugely significant moment for Opera North: a new beginning for the Company as we return to live performance in theatres and concert halls across the North and open our transformed estate following its £18 million redevelopment. A world-class centre for music and the arts, our new spaces in the Howard Opera Centre will for the first time bring young people, community partners, and adults participating in our creative education programmes into the heart of the Company. The newly built music rehearsal studio for the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North also gives our permanent ensembles a dedicated rehearsal space for the first time, while enabling the re-opened Howard Assembly Room, previously used for much of the year for rehearsals, to expand its programme of events, with a new entrance, public atrium, bar and restaurant revitalising an under-used part of New Briggate in central Leeds.

‘The operational impact of COVID-19 on Opera North and all of our partner companies, venues and freelance artists will still continue to be felt, and we will be working very closely with our partner venues to ensure that the safety of audiences, staff and artists is our highest priority as we go into the upcoming season.

‘One of our new productions delayed by the pandemic, Carmen, will be our first event back in residence at Leeds Grand Theatre since early 2020. We are delighted that this opening production will be conducted by Garry Walker in his belated debut as our new Music Director, following much success in previous performances with the Company of Billy Budd, The Rite of Spring and The Greek Passion.

Leave a Comment