With Puccini’s devastating take on passion and power, Janáček’senchanting celebration of the cycle of life, and Strauss’ playful look at what happens when tragedy and comedy collide on and off stage, Opera North’s new season brings memorable characters, compelling drama and incredible music to Newcastle Theatre Royal this March. 

One of the world’s most popular operas is back with opportunities to catch Edward Dick’s thrilling production of Puccini’s Tosca on Thursday 23 and Saturday 25 March. The singer Tosca is the lover of Cavaradossi, an artist, but has also attracted the attention of Scarpia, the chillingly corrupt Chief of Police, who wants her for himself. The opportunity presents itself when Cavaradossi is arrested and tortured for helping an escaped political prisoner find refuge. Scarpia offers Tosca a stark choice: if she gives herself to him, he will let Cavaradossi go free. 

Baritone Robert Hayward revisits the role of Scarpia with Polish soprano Magdalena Molendowska taking on the role of Tosca. Uruguayan tenor Andrés Presno makes his Opera North debut as Cavaradossi, while Opera North Music Director, Garry Walker, conducts Puccini’s mesmerising score which includes Tosca’s moving paean to art ‘Vissi d’arte’, Caravadossi’s heart-wrenching farewell ‘E lucevan le stelle’, and the powerful hymn ‘Te deum’.

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen takes a very different look at life and loss on Tuesday 21 March. Inspired by a comic strip in his local paper, Janáček reworked the captivating tale of mischievous young Vixen Sharp-Ears to create an opera which appeals to adults and young people alike. Having been captured by a Forester to become the family pet, the vixen eventually manages to escape back into the wild where she falls in love with another fox only to be shot while defending her cubs. By turns funny and profound, the opera features a host of colourful characters including a brood of hens, a dancing dragonfly, a buzzing mosquito and a curmudgeonly badger, with a playful score brimming with folk-infused melodies. 

Originally a Scottish Opera/ Welsh National Opera co-production, Sir David Pountney’s interpretation of Janáček’s work is widely regarded as a classic. Oliver Rundell conducts a cast which sees a host of singers making a welcome return to Opera North including Elin Pritchard as Vixen Sharp-Ears, Heather Lowe as Fox, Callum Thorpe as Poacher, Paul Nilon as Schoolmaster and Richard Burkhard as Forester. A matinee performance of The Cunning Little Vixen takes place for schools at 1pm on Wednesday 22 March giving many upper KS2 and KS3 pupils the chance to experience live opera in the theatre for the first time. 

Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, a first for Opera North, completes the season on Friday 24 March in a co-production with Gothenburg Opera, where it premiered to critical acclaim in 2018. London-based Greek director Rodula Gaitanou and designer George Souglides have set the action in a bustling 1950s Fellini-esqueItalian film studio. Much to everyone’s dismay, two different shows – a light musical comedy and a serious mythological opera – have been asked to merge at the last minute to cut costs. The worlds collide to hilarious effect when the commedia dell’arte’s fickle Zerbinetta tries to cheer up Ariadne, who longs only for death having been jilted by her lover Theseus and deserted on the island of Naxos. 

Underpinned by Strauss’ beautiful score, the ensuing drama both on and off stage offers a meditation on differing attitudes to life and love and casts a quizzical eye over the concepts of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. Opera North’s Principal Guest Conductor, Antony Hermus, returns to conduct a cast including, in their Company debuts, English soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn as Prima Donna/ Ariadneand Polish mezzo soprano Hanna Hipp as Composer. They are joined by David Butt Philip as Tenor/ Bacchus and Jennifer France as Zerbinetta for what she terms “Strauss’ love letter to opera”.

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