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Opera North: Race, Representation and Authenticity, 1979–2023

Sadler Seminar Series
Tuesday 28 March 2023
The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery Education Room

From the earliest 16th-century Italian operas to the present day, opera has always offered its audiences representations of far-off times, cultures, and people.  By the 18th and 19th centuries, audience numbers began to expand due to the emergence of the middle classes. Opera houses sought to capture the attention of this growing market through theatrical spectacle, exoticism, and musical novelties reflecting distant lands and cultures.

More recently, opera companies, directors, and performers have become increasingly aware that traditional stagings of such works have the potential to communicate negative and stereotyped messages about race and culture. Productions have grappled with how audiences listen or who has the right to tell certain stories, and how they can facilitate authentic creative voices.

Over the course of the last four decades, Opera North has offered both traditional and innovative stagings of works that bring to the fore issues of race, representation and authenticity. This exhibition draws on materials held in the Opera North Collection held at the University of Leeds Library and from the Opera North stores to explore the company’s operatic storytelling.

This exhibition is part of the 2022–23 Sadler Series Telling Operatic Stories: Race, ethics, and authenticity, funded by the Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute.

Image: Opera North’s production of Orpheus with music by Monteverdi and Singh Degun Kaviraj Singh as Caronte and Nicholas Watts as Orpheus. Music Directors Laurence Cummings and Jasdeep Singh Degun, Director Anna Himali Howard, Set and Costume Designer Leslie Travers, Lighting Designer Jackie Shemesh, Choreographer Urja Desai Thakore, Sound Designer Camilo Tirado, Translation/ Music Consultants Ustad Dharambir Singh MBE and Shahbaz Hussain
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton