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Towards a National Opera Company for the North, 1960's

Writing in the 1964 Leeds Triennial Festival programme book, Ernest Bradbury, the Yorkshire Post's distinguished chief music critic, muses on the state of music in Leeds: 'The City continues its Saturday concerts by engaging orchestras from London and abroad to play predominantly 19th Century programmes, supports its one remaining choral society (Leeds Philharmonic), a familiar pattern of chamber concerts at the University, organ recitals at the Parish church and, on average, two visits a year from Sadlers Wells Opera'.

Glimmers of light
The variable standards of touring opera in the fifties and sixties had created a perception that 'the Provinces' were being offered an inferior product – 'second eleven' casts, limited repertoire, under-size and under-rehearsed orchestras, scenery hastily adapted for smaller stages out of London. There had been some glimmers of light such as the first out of London showing of Britten's 'Gloriana'. Sadlers Wells staged the opera, originally composed to mark the Coronation of Elizabeth II, during their 1967 season at the Grand Theatre.

Talk of regional opera
But change was afoot, thanks in part to a small group of theatre and music lovers who were dissatisfied with the status quo. A grassroots campaign to gain support for a repertory theatre in Leeds was just beginning and, in 1965, a joint committee was formed to examine the possibilities of combining the proposed repertory theatre with a purpose-built concert hall. There was talk of a regional opera group and, with even more prescience, of Leeds Grand Theatre becoming the northern home of 'London' opera.

Four weeks of Sadlers Wells
In 1967 the Dramatic and Lyric Theatres Association (DALTA) was formed under the aegis of the Arts Council to co-ordinate extended seasons from the national opera, ballet and drama companies in several of the north's principal touring theatres (Manchester Opera House and Leeds Grand). A four-week DALTA season by Sadlers Wells Opera at Leeds Grand in March/April 1968 enabled the company to bring half its London repertory - nine operas – to Leeds. These were: 'Cosi fan tutte', 'Orpheus in the Underworld', 'Barber of Seville', 'Orpheus and Eurydice', Verdi’s 'Ernani', 'Peter Grimes', 'Samson and Delilah' and 'The Magic Flute'. A novelty of the season was Malcolm Williamson's new opera, 'The Violins of St. Jacques', whose spectacular climax was a simulated volcanic eruption.

Glyndebourne comes to Leeds
Meanwhile, Glyndebourne Touring Opera scheduled a week in Leeds for March 1969 with Tchaikovsky's 'Eugene Onegin', Mozart's 'Seraglio' and Verdi's 'Macbeth'. Scottish Opera and Welsh National Opera made plans to include the Grand Theatre in their future tours.
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Sadler's Wells Opera, 1967
Sadler's Wells Opera, 1967
Sadler's Wells Opera, 1968, four week season
Sadler's Wells Opera, 1968, four week season
DALTA, 1969 programme
DALTA, 1969 programme

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© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003