|By the early 1970s Leeds Grand Theatre became the epicentre of an operatic renaissance in the North. This exciting and quite extraordinary period is worth outlining in some detail: it included many operas never previously seen in Leeds, or not seen for several generations. The arrival of Glyndebourne, Scottish and Welsh Opera in Leeds set standards of excellence which would eventually fuel the expectations of the proposed new company to be based at the Grand Theatre.|
In 1970 Welsh National Opera's debut at the Grand Theatre included Verdi's 'Aida' (Pauline Tinsley as Aida), Simon Boccenegra with Margaret Price, Thomas Allen, Delme Bryn-Jones and Forbes Robinson, 'La Boheme', Johann Strauss 'Die Fledermaus'.
In 1971 Sadlers Wells Opera's fortnight at the Grand includes the first instalment of the company's projected Wagner's 'Ring Cycle' sung in English, 'The Valkyrie'. Other works performed were, Beethoven's 'Fidelio', Offenbach's 'Tales of Hoffman', 'Carmen', Janacek's 'The Makropoulos Case'. In the same year Scottish Opera's Grand Theatre season included Wagner's 'Die Valkyrie', its first Leeds performance in German. A top-notch cast of Wagner singers included Donald McIntyre, Anna Reynolds and Charles Craig. In the pit, Alexander Gibson, Scottish Opera's music director, conducted the 75-strong Scottish National Orchestra. Welsh National Opera's productions at the Grand Theatre included, Alban Berg's unfinished opera, 'Lulu' which is based on the play by Frank Wedekin, by coincidence this parade of Victorian sensuality was being staged in play form at the new Leeds Playhouse. So that week Leeds had the benefit of two Lulu's! plus Verdi's 'Falstaff' with Geraint Evans in the title role, Rossini's 'Barber of Seville', Mussorgsky's 'Boris Godunov' and Mozart's 'Magic Flute'.
An epic evening of Berlioz
1972 saw the return of Scottish Opera, this time with their massive new production of both parts of Berlioz’ 'Les Troyens' sung in French, conducted by Gibson, and performed complete in one marathon Saturday performance which began at 5.00pm. Sadlers Wells Opera, in this year, presented a daring innovation, 'Cav and Pag' in modern dress. Bartok's 'Duke Bluebeard's Castle' and Stravinsky's 'Oedipus Rex' and the latest instalment of the company’s projected Ring Cycle, 'Twilight of the Gods' (Gotterdammerung) complete an ambitious fortnight of productions.
Gibson, Wagner and a Yorkshire premiere
In 1973 Scottish Opera's Alexander Gibson conducted a new production of Wagner's 'Tristan Und Isolde' sung in German and receiving its first Yorkshire performances since the 1920s. Debussy’s 'Pelleas and Melisande' received its first ever Yorkshire performance in the same week.
Yorkshire Post music critic, Ernest Bradbury wrote: 'The first performance in Leeds for how many? 50 years?. Monday's audience could be well satisfied with a Tristan which not even Newcastle was offered'. And on 'Pelleas and Melisande': 'Alexander Gibson and the Scottish National Orchestra splendidly evoked the world of half-lights and shadows'. 1973 also saw Welsh National Opera perform Bizet's, 'The Pearl Fishers', Mozart's 'Idomeneo', Puccini's 'Madam Butterfly', Verdi's 'Don Carlos' and Britten's 'Billy Budd'. Sadlers Wells Opera performed the latest instalment of Sadlers Wells' promised 'Ring Cycle' – 'The Rhinegold', Britten's 'Gloriana', Verdi's 'Il Trovatore', Lehar's 'Merry Widow', and Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro'.
Rosenkavalier in German
In 1974 Scottish Opera performed R. Strauss's 'Der Rosenkavalier' sung in German with Austrian soprano Helga Dernesch as the Marschallin and Michael Langdon as Baron Ochs. Hans Werner Henze's 'Elegy for Young Lovers' with Jill Gomez, Catherine Gayer and John Shirley Quirk.
First English Ring since 1913
1975, Sadlers Wells now renamed English National Opera, bring their complete Ring Cycle - 'The Rhinegold', 'The Valkyre', 'Siegfried', 'Twilight of the Gods'. Sir Charles Groves conducts and this is the first 'Leeds Ring' since 1913. Scottish Opera - Robin Orr's new opera 'Hermiston' premiered at that year's Edinburgh Festival, Mozart's 'Don Giovanni' with John Shirley Quirk as Don Giovanni. Robert Tear as Don Ottavio & Ann Murray as Zerlina.
A second tour of the Ring
In 1976 English National Opera had a second tour of the Ring this time conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite but still with ENO's exciting 'home grown' crop of world class Wagner singers: Rita Hunter, Alberto Remedios, Norman Bailey, Clifford Grant and John Tomlinson. The long intervals during ENO's epic Wagner performances imparted something of the Glyndebourne Festival atmosphere. Many patrons in evening dress, open Danish sandwiches and chicken salads were on sale in the theatre bars while patrons occupying boxes popped champagne corks and tucked into picnic hampers full of delicacies. In this year Welsh National Opera performed Mussorgsky's 'Boris Godunov' with Forbes Robinson as Boris, Michael Tippett's 'The Midsummer Marriage' – both conducted by Richard Armstrong. Reviewing 'Boris Godunov' in the Yorkshire Post, Ernest Bradbury said: 'Forbes Robinson is the finest Boris that I have seen and I do not forget (the great Bulgarian Bass) Boris Christoff'. Scottish Opera's production of Verdi's 'Macbeth' included Norman Bailey in the title role, legendary Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya as Lady Macbeth, David Ward as Banquo. A new opera, Thomas Wilson's 'The Confessions of a Justified Sinner', Lehar’s 'Merry Widow' and Mozart's 'Magic Flute' completed the week.
Barstow Sings Salome
Welsh National Opera returned to the Grand in 1977 with a typically ambitious programme of five big operas in one week: Verdi's Rigoletto, Britten's Billy Budd, Bizet's Pearl Fishers, Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, and Janacek's Jenufa. That same year, English National Opera's customary two week sojourn at the Grand included another generous helping of Wagner following the previous two years' touring Ring Cycles. ENO's famous production of Wagner's The Mastersingers of Nuremberg was scheduled for two performances, with alternating casting in some roles. Singers appearing in both performances were: Peter van Ginkel (Hans Sachs), Anne Evans (Eva), Sarah Walker (Magdalene) and Ramon Remedios (David). Alberto Remedios / Kenneth Woollam sang Walther, Thomas Hemsley / Derek Hammond Stroud sang Beckmesser, and Gwynne Howell / John Tomlinson sang Pognor. Mastersingers was conducted by David Lloyd-Jones. Mozart's Don Giovanni, J.Strauss's A Night in Venice, the popular double bill of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, and two performances of R.Strauss's Salome were the other operas performed. Sheffield-born Josephine Barstow, and Janet Jacques alternated in the title role of Salome, with Neil Howlett as John the Baptist and Katherine Pring as Herodias; Mark Elder conducted.
Visitors from Dortmund
In September 1978, less than two months before the opening of the Leeds Grand Theatre - based English National Opera North, Leeds' German twin city of Dortmund dispatched their opera company together with the Dortmund Philharmonic Orchestra for a week-long residency at the Grand. Dortmund Opera music director Marek Janowski conducted all five performances: two of Beethoven's Fidelio and one each of Alban Berg's Lulu, Verdi's Falstaff, and Richard Strauss's Electra. Renowned Serbian dramatic soprano Danica Mastilovic sang the title role in Strauss's one-act shocker, with Linda Karen as Klytemnestra, Uta-Maria Flake as Chrysothemis and Robert Schunk as Aegisthus. Flake also sang Leonore in Fidelio, with Schunk as Florestan and Franz-Josef Kapellmann as Don Pizaro. American bass baritone Thomas Tipton sang the title tole in Falstaff, with Robert C.Christesen as Ford, Elizabeth Lachmann as Mistress Alice Ford, and Karen as Mistress Quickly. Iranian soprano Nassrin Azarmi sang the title role in Berg's Lulu, with Elizabeth Glauser as Countess Geschwitz, and Dieter Behlendorf as Dr Schon. A programme note expressed the hope that "This welcome and magnificent" cultural exchange between the Cities of Leeds and Dortmund... would be reciprocated by English National Opera North during Dortmund's British Week in June 1979, with performances of ENON's Samson et Dalila and Britten's Peter Grimes.
|Click images to enlarge|
Norman Bailey as Wotan, 1971
Scottish Opera, 1973 programme
Welsh National Opera production of Don Carlos, 1973
Welsh National Opera production of Madama Butterfly, 1973
English National Opera, 1975
Scottish Opera programme, 1976
Scottish Opera, The Merry Widow
Welsh National Opera programme, 1977
English National Opera, The Mastersingers, 1977
Dortmund Opera Company, 1978