For two years, I've been looking forward to visiting the enthusiastic Leeds International Organ Festival, led by cathedral organist David Pipe. But with restrictions still in place, we had to get back online. LIOF presented an ingenious e-programme of organ recitals, plus a few live events, and I of course logged on to Zoom for a long planned interview with Opera North's general director, Richard Mantle.
It was quite a surprise to be speaking to Richard in such a context. We last worked together at Scottish Opera thirty years ago (on The Vanishing Bridegroom premiere, which he commissioned) and he must by now have been running Opera North for at least a quarter century. That sort of longevity takes some doing in the opera world. Perhaps it explains why, out of our national companies (I know we don't have very many) Opera North seems to be exceptionally consistent in its adventurous productions and outreach work.
Bearing in mind we were broadcasting for an organ-loving public, Richard and I had to keep ourselves from straying too far into a no-hold-barred operatic discussion. I was actually surprised to find another person involved, like myself, in both opera and church music at the same time. During our discussion it became clear that the link here between the two activities was the teaching of singing. Both Leeds Cathedral and Opera North host year-round singing programmes for the young people of West Yorkshire. Richard, having mentioned that his own programme reached several thousand thousand students, said "well, it's just a drop in the ocean really". But I found the whole idea of opera house and cathedral (it's a Catholic cathedral by the way) linking up to do this much needed thing very impressive.
UPDATE (30 June). Following this post, I had the pleasure of Zoom-visiting the Senior Girls' Choir of Leeds Cathedral. Notwithstanding the audio restrictions of our video platform, the singers sang (through masks) with beautiful clarity. Several other choir members, self-isolating at home, joined us later for a conversation. It was uplifting and actually mind-bending to spend a short time even via this distanced method with this inspiring choral department, who run a children's choir, two junior and two senior choirs, and a choral scholars' chorale.
Pictured - early days for the new Rieger organ in Vienna Cathedral, inaugurated a year ago.