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English National Opera North

The bold initiative to make Leeds Grand Theatre a second centre for English National Opera first mooted, as already mentioned, in the early 1960s took more than a decade to develop. The detailed scheme was eventually unveiled at a reception in Harewood House on 10th March 1976.

Arts Council backing
The Arts Council of Great Britain had offered to back the scheme to a sum of more than half its cost, which was estimated at £1m in the first year. The balance would have to be stumped up by local authorities led by Leeds City Council and this was initially a sticking point. Manchester had submitted a rival bid and time was of the essence if the projected Autumn 1977 opening of the new company was to become a reality.

A spirit of entente cordiale
In his Music and Musicians column (Yorkshire Post 9th July, 1976) Ernest Bradbury, a staunch advocate of the scheme exhorted Yorkshire to stop dragging its feet. Yorkshire eventually grasped the nettle and a consortium of local authorities, led by the visionary example of Leeds City Council, agreed to match the Arts Council's funding of the proposed new company. Thankfully absent in this new spirit of entente cordiale among Yorkshire local authorities was the parochialism and petty rivalry, which had contributed to the demise of the Yorkshire Symphony orchestra back in 1955.

Opening night
The inaugural performance of English National Opera North, Saint-Saens' 'Samson et Dalila', sung in Leeds for the first time in its original French, was scheduled for November 17th, 1978. This was 12 months later than originally planned but, significantly, 100 years to the day since the opening of the Grand Theatre. The new company, with a permanent chorus of 36 and a 53 strong orchestra and its own administrative, production and music staff would initially have close ties with its parent, London based English National Opera, with interchange of artistes and productions between London and Leeds.

David Lloyd-Jones was appointed founder music director of ENON and the principal conductor of its orchestra – the English Northern Philharmonia which, from the start, would be committed to giving orchestral concerts as well as playing in the opera house.

10 weeks of opera in Leeds
The company would give 10 weeks of opera comprising 11 productions at the Grand Theatre and then tour to theatres in the North of England. The London company's strict adherence to opera in English would be less rigidly applied to ENON: two out of the eleven operas in the first season being performed in their original language – a proportion of which has been maintained, more or less, ever since.

'A wonderfully suitable home base'
Writing in ENON's inaugural season subscription brochure, the new company’s music director David Lloyd-Jones said: 'It has been observed that nowhere in the rest of Europe is there a region with such a large (let alone musical) population as exists in the North of England that is not served by its own opera company. Now, thanks to the vision and determination of the Arts Council of Great Britain, and a wonderfully suitable home base, this shameful state of affairs is being remedied – not gradually, by means of occasional seasons, but at a stroke with the creation of a full-time opera company working the whole year round from the Grand Theatre in Leeds'. Harold Rosenthal, the editor of Opera Magazine, writing in the November 1978 issue said: "This is the most important operatic development in the past 25 years, or possibly since the establishment of the Covent Garden Opera Company after the second World War."

ENON becomes ON
ENON became fully independent and changed its name to Opera North in 1981. The English Northern Philharmonia changed its name to The Orchestra of Opera North in 2001. The company's turnover for the financial year 2004/05 was £13.65m.
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First season poster
First season poster
First season poster
First season poster
First performance review
First performance review
1979-80 season
1979-80 season




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