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Concert Performances of Operas

These were popular in the Albion Street Music Hall, long before Leeds had a theatre suitable for fully staged opera productions. Handel's 'Acis and Galatea' was performed in a double bill with Mendelssohn's unfinished opera, 'Loreley' in October 1854 and December 1855. Those taking part included Mrs. Sunderland (Brighouse-born soprano Susannah Sunderland was dubbed 'Yorkshire's Queen of Song') together with a full band and chorus of 120 performers. The overture and finale from Beethoven's 'Fidelio' was performed there on 11th January 1855, with vocalists Madame Newton Frodham, Mr. Miranda and Henric Jahns.

The Town Hall hosted a concert version of Wagner's 'The Flying Dutchman' in 1898, given by the Leeds Choral Union and Orchestra with 400 performers! The same forces gave the first Leeds performance of Mancinelli's opera, 'Hero and Leander' on February 8th, 1899. In 1926 the Choral Union, now conducted by Henry Coward gave a concert performance of Verdi's 'Aida'.

'A handsome concert version'
The Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra (1947-1955) featured a concert performance of Humperdinck's fairy tale opera Hansel and Gretel in their Town Hall Christmas and New Year programmes for several years. The YSO's first season concluded with "a handsome concert version" (Ernest Bradbury, Yorkshire Post) of Wagner's The Mastersingers of Nuremberg.

Sargent 'arranges' Aida
A civic orchestral concert in February 1958 was devoted to Sir Malcolm Sargent's concert arrangement of Verdi's Aida. Performers were the West Riding Opera Circle and Lemare Orchestra conducted by Brian Priestman. Principals included Amy Shuard as Aida and Walter Midgeley as Radames.
Concert versions such as Sargent's arrangement of Aida were usually abridged, with certain vocal numbers reallocated or omitted all together. A smaller cast of principal singers was therefore required than for a fully staged production in the opera house.

Semi-staged productions
Almost certainly, these occasions would have been in the static format of evening dress oratorio presentation i.e. with the soloists placed at the front of the stage to the right and left of the conductor. Nowadays, a semi-staged or dramatised concert format is favoured and a theatre director and lighting designer will conceive a production specifically for concert hall presentation. In 2001, Opera North memorably produced Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in a staging tailor-made for Leeds Town Hall. The fully costumed cast acted and sang their roles on stage, where the orchestra strings would normally be placed. Behind the cast and hidden from audience view by a scrim (gauze) the conductor, orchestra and chorus were positioned on the tiered choir seats (orchestra rise). Discreetly placed CCTV screens enabled the cast to see the conductor's gestures.

Spectacular lighting effects
The following year, Opera North produced Stravinsky's opera/oratorio Oedipus Rex in Leeds Town Hall. This semi-staged concept, although not as ambitious as for Tristan, included spectacular lighting effects on the magnificent Town Hall organ pipes. The principals acted and sang their roles in formal evening dress, in the manner of presentation pioneered by Glyndebourne Festival Opera for their annual BBC Proms appearances at London's Royal Albert Hall since the 1960s.


Click images to enlarge
The Flying Dutchman, 1898
The Flying Dutchman, 1898
Aida, 1926
Aida, 1926
Hansel and Gretel, 1949
Hansel and Gretel, 1949
Mastersingers, 1948
Mastersingers, 1948
Tristan 2001,cast list
Tristan 2001,cast list
Tristan 2001,cast list
Tristan 2001,cast list




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