“I can’t wait to hear the orchestra again”: Guest artists look forward to Opera North’s New Year celebrations in Hull

Celebrating Opera North’s return to full-scale live performance and seeing out a difficult year with high hopes for the next, the company’s award-winning Orchestra will be joined by Italian-Turkish conductor Nil Venditti and Irish soprano Máire Flavin for a Viennese Whirl concert at Hull City Hall on Friday 31 December.

Soprano Máire Flavin in Opera North’s Silent Night. Photo: Tristram Kenton.

“I’ve just begun rehearsals for Alcina with Opera North in Leeds, and it’s so lovely to be back in what feels like a second home to me,” says Máire.

“I’ve been lucky to have had several streamed recitals during the pandemic, but without an audience to communicate with, it could never be the same. There’s been a chasm in my life that couldn’t be filled with anything else but live performance.”

Nil, who is Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestra della Toscana, conducted the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra’s streamed New Year celebrations from their empty venue last year, which she describes as “absolutely surreal: the orchestra were sitting so far from each other, and the Concertgebouw was completely empty, but we were all in concert dress and somehow a concert was happening!”

Among Viennese Whirl’s more traditional fare by the Strauss family, Mozart and Lehár, the conductor has programmed Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, a series of songs not traditionally associated with New Year celebrations. “That certainly took me by surprise,” admits Máire, “but then I realised – what a gift! They are the most fabulous songs and the texts resonate strongly with what we have all been through, and are still in the midst of.”

“From feeling apart from the world, but realising that you can live quite happily in your own heaven, your own love, your own song (‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’), to finding simple joy in the little details of nature (‘Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft’), and beauty in the purity of love for love’s sake (‘Liebst du um Schönheit’)… I cannot think of more apt music to celebrate and recognise this journey that we have all been on over the last two years.”

Nil explains: “The Rückert-Lieder are a message of love – one of the most beautiful love messages, actually – and I thought, why not? We often think of what we would like to do in the New Year, but sometimes we don’t give enough thought to what happened in the past: the mistakes we made, the love we received, the love we gave, all the things that went wrong, all the things that made us happy. There is no future without understanding the past, and I feel like this this piece will give us the time to think about all of this. And then let’s get drunk with some Strauss!”

The Overture from Johann Strauss II’s operetta Die Fledermaus is “a must in every New Year’s concert,” Nil insists. “What would life be without Fledermaus? This joyful, super difficult, dancing piece will leave you with a smile on your face!” 

Having sung the title role in Opera North’s 2018 production of The Merry Widow, Máire is looking forward to reprising the operetta’s most famous tune. “The beautiful ‘Vilja Song’, with its tale of bewitching love, and the characterful gypsy flirt of ‘Meine Lippen…’ – from Giuditta, another of Lehár’s operettas – will whirl you into the New Year in the in the second half of the concert.

“And we have a treat from the world of musicals that can’t help but make you want to go spinning off up the street as an encore. I can’t wait to hear the Orchestra again, to be surrounded by the sound.”

After performing at Hull City Hall in the afternoon, both artists will find themselves far from home when the clock strikes midnight on 31 December. “You cannot celebrate New Year’s Eve alone, even if you are a conductor and you are traveling from concert to concert,” says Nil. “So my family and the person I love will come and see the performance, and then we will all celebrate together!”

“After the concert I will be dashing back to my Airbnb in Leeds to celebrate with my husband and little two-year-old girl, who will hopefully be asleep long before we ring in the New Year!” says Máire.

“I hope to see you at Hull City Hall, and may we all be welcoming in a year with many, many more live theatre and concert experiences than the last two!”

Nil and Máire join the Orchestra of Opera North for Viennese Whirl at Hull City Hall on Friday 31 December at 3pm. Tickets for the concert priced from £16.50 to £26.50 + concessions can be booked at www.hulltheatres.co.uk. Please check the website for the latest updates before attending the performance.