Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House
Since 1878, Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House has hosted thousands of plays, ballets, concerts and operas, and continues to operate as one of the most successful theatres in the North of England. Its central location in Leeds city centre – just a 10 minute stroll from 42 The Calls – and imposing structure highlight the importance of this formidable theatre, not only in Victorian times when it was built, but also as part of the city today.
The Beginnings of a Northern Music Hub
Externally, the theatre is a real eye-opener. Designed by George Corson, a Leeds-based architect, the exterior boasts everything expected from grand, industrial city architecture of the day – imposing pomp and flair. The Victorians were certainly not believers in ‘less is more’ and Leeds Theatre is an excellent example of them showcasing their imperial spirit in a bid to display the importance of the British arts scene.
As theatres began to open up all over Britain, so did the types of plays being shown. Seen as a step up from the bawdy ‘old time music halls’, the theatre was an opportunity for people to see high-quality, serious productions. As well as classical ballet and plays by Shakespeare, more socially-aware and self-reflective new plays became popular, such as works by Oscar Wilde, who often mocked and drew attention to the social injustices of the time. It was plays like this that were popular with the inhabitants and visitors of Leeds, and remain so to this day.
The Opera North
Today Leeds Grand Theatre is home to the Opera North. Established in 1977 as a northern branch of the English National Opera, they are now independent of that body and stand alone as their own opera company. The purpose was to produce high-quality, reputable opera, traditionally associated with London, but in the North of England. As well as operas, Opera North produces musical theatre works – their repertoire includes Showboat, Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing, Sweeney Todd and Carousel.
Since their creation, the Opera North has built an outstanding reputation as one of the top producers of classical music in the country. Though operating predominantly from Leeds Grand Theatre, they also perform regular seasons in Nottingham, Manchester and Newcastle. They perform classic operas, opening with Samson and Delilah in 1978, but also present alternative operas that are rarely shown in Britain such as Johnny Strikes Up, The Reluctant King and Love’s Luggage Lost.
Collaborations with local theatre companies are common, as well as community projects with schools. Working with these groups has enabled them to develop original or adapted works such as community opera Beached. The seaside town of Bridlington was involved in the production when 300 local school children featured in the opera.
Today’s Theatre: Exciting Plays, Musicals and Comedy
After a huge refurbishment project in 2005 costing around £31.5 million, the Grand Theatre now has all the mod-cons modern day theatre-goers require on their visits: comfortable seating, improved views of the stage and air conditioning. The rehearsal and orchestra spaces were also increased and the theatre now acts, not only as a base for Opera North, but also as a rehearsal space.
In its time, Leeds Grand Theatre has hosted a huge array of dramatic and musical performances, including The Phantom of the Opera, Dirty Dancing, Shrek the Musical, Oliver!, We Will Rock You and Wicked. As well as renowned shows, plenty of famous faces have graced the stage at the theatre, including Ellen Terry (famed Victorian Shakespearian actress), Julie Andrews, Felicity Kendal, Morecambe and Wise, and Laurence Olivier.
There is always a hugely diverse range of performances on at the theatre so no matter what time of year you visit Leeds, plan ahead and check out the Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House website to buy tickets. Not only will you witness a breath-taking show, but you’ll be taking a step into history too.