Beethoven’s Fourth

Wednesday 28th September, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Wagner Tannhäuser: Overture and Venusberg Music , 24′
  • Sibelius Violin Concerto , 31′
  • Beethoven Symphony No. 4, 32′

Jack Liebeck’s encore – Francisco Tarrega – Memories of the Alhambra

At the court of the goddess Venus a young poet enjoys pleasures beyond his wildest imaginings. Finland’s greatest composer relives his childhood dreams of being a great violinist. And Beethoven cuts loose in the brightest, lightest symphony he ever wrote. It’s all about the stories: and violinist Jack Liebeck and former Opera North music director Richard Farnes know exactly how to make them spring, tingling, into life.


Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

 …     “Once conductor Richard Farnes unleashed the fortissimo chords that send the movement roaring on its way there was a vast improvement. Basses ground away gruffly, the upper strings soared and suddenly the music began to resemble the composer Robert Simpson’s description of its “compact supple movement” and “dangerous lithe economy.”

The danger lurked just below the slow movement’s seemingly placid surface while on top Oliver Janes’ lovely clarinet sang mournfully. The scherzo’s manic energy was infectious while Farnes and the players clearly relished the finale’s Haydnesque high jinks. Similarly, the performance of the Overture and Venusberg Music from Tannhäuser impressed most in the extrovert passages where the percussion section excelled – castanets in Wagner!

It’s the fashion now for many soloists, seeking to make an instant impact during their entry in Sibelius’s violin concerto, to play it barely audibly in an attempt at making it ethereal.

Jack Liebeck played it straight and mezzo-forte just as the composer requested and this set the pattern for a strong, sinewy performance which didn’t try to make the work more “poetic” than it is. ”     …


Review by Richard Ely, Bachtrack:

Click here for full review

…     “By contrast, Farnes’ stately canter through Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony almost did. This was a winning performance with the right kind of attention paid to balance and dynamics and the orchestra, for the first and only time this evening not seeming hemmed in by the sense of properness that had afflicted the earlier items. Described by Robert Schumann as a “slender Greek maiden” (between the Nordic giants of the Third and Fifth symphonies), this is a work that can struggle to make an impact because it lacks the assertive character of its immediate neighbours. Farnes didn’t seek to make apologies for the Fourth’s ‘small scale’ character in a reading that balanced the darker elements that hang over the opening moments with the lighter ones that overtake them as the work progresses. The acceleration into the Allegro vivace of the first movement was expertly handled and there was a glowing account of the Adagio as well as an ideally contrasted repetition of the Trio section in the Scherzo.  ”     …



Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package, SoundBite,
Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 and Vocal Music

Sunday 5th July

Symphony Hall

Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North
Richard Farnes conductor

Béla Perencz The Dutchman
Alwyn Mellor Senta
Mats Almgren Daland
Mati Turi Erik
Ceri Williams Mary
Mark Le Brocq Steersman

Peter Mumford concert staging & design concept
Peter Mumford lighting and projection designer
Fotini Dimou costume design

Wagner The Flying Dutchman 150’

There is no interval in this concert.

A phantom ship, a satanic curse, and a love more powerful than death itself: Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman might just be the ultimate Romantic opera.

For Wagner novices, it’s an ideal place to start; for those who’ve followed Opera North’s triumphant concert Ring Cycle, this concert staging under Richard Farnes – with visuals by Peter Mumford – is an unmissable encore.

Concert performance sung in German with English surtitles. Please note surtitles may not be visible from every seat. Please check when booking.


Wagner’s Ring: Götterdämmerung

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14 Concert Package and Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Saturday 21st June

Symphony Hall

Alwyn Mellor Brünnhilde
Mati Turi Siegfried
Mats Almgren Hagen
Orla Boylan Gutrune
Eric Greene Gunther
Jo Pohlheim Alberich
Susan Bickley Waltraute
Katherine Broderick Woglinde
Madeleine Shaw Wellgunde
Sarah Castle Flosshilde

Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North
Richard Farnes conductor
Peter Mumford staging and design, lighting and projection design
Dame Anne Evans vocal consultant

Wagner Götterdämmerung 270’

This performance has a running time of c 6 hours including
two intervals of 30 and 75 minutes.

Act I 3.30pm – 5.45pm
Interval 75mins
Act II 7pm – 8.10pm
Interval 30 mins
Act III 8.40pm – 10pm

Opera North’s visually-stunning concert production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle has been acclaimed as one of the supreme achievements in recent British opera. ‘If the cycle continues at this level’ said The Spectator’s Michael Tanner of Das Rheingold ‘it will rank as one of the greatest ever’.

Today, in Götterdämmerung the final tragedy unfolds, as Siegfried falls amongst enemies, Brünnhilde’s love is betrayed and the gods themselves confront the end of a world.

An epically tremendous achievement
The Daily Telegraph ****

Oliver Condy, Editor of BBC Music Magazine explains why he has recommended today’s concert:

The final opera in Wagner’s magnificent Ring Cycle doesn’t go out with a whimper. As the Ring gets returned to the Rhine, Wagner conjures up, with awesome power, Valhalla’s and the gods’ fiery destruction. But not before one of Wagner’s most dramatic and overwhelming scenes – Siegfried’s death and funeral march.

Concert performance sung in German with English surtitles. Please note surtitles may not be visible from every seat. Please check when booking.

2.15pm Free pre-performance talk: Opera North’s Head of Music Martin Pickard in conversation with Stuart Leeks about the final installment of Wagner’s epic Ring cycle. The talk takes place in the auditorium and is free to all ticket-holders for the performance. Opera North’s pre-performance talks are made possible by the generous support of the Friends of Opera North.

A collaboration with Opera North, Symphony Hall, Birmingham and The Sage, Gateshead.

Financially supported by the Opera North Future Fund and The Ring Fellowship.



Review by Diane Parkes, BehindtheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “All of the cast are wonderful. Alwyn Mellor is a mighty Brunnhilde. She is gentle and endearing in love and mourning but gloriously terrifying when on the path of vengeance. You wouldn’t want to get in this Valkyrie’s way!

Also impressive is Mats Almgren as the scheming Hagen. Evil enough to sacrifice his half-brother and half-sister to his machinations, he is yet so believable they all fall for his flattery. But we also see his own vulnerability when he is forced to face his even more monstrous father Alberich (Jo Pohlheim), the Nibelung dwarf who stole the Rhinegold and then saw it stolen in his turn.

Mati Turi plays Siegfried as a bit of a simpleton. He may be a great hero of Germanic tradition but he does fall prey to Hagen’s tricks and bring about Brunnhilde’s revenge. And when the Rhinemaidens warn that the ring is cursed and beg him to return it, he simply shrugs off ‘women’s wiles’ and heads off for a drink instead. It takes death and Brunnhilde’s eulogy to reinstate him as the great hero.

And so, at the end, we also see the destruction of the Gibichung siblings Gunther (Eric Greene) and Gutrune (Orla Boylan) who gave in to the temptation offered by Hagen but could not foresee its terrible results.

As the fires burn on Siegfried’s funeral pyre and at the hall of the Gods, Valhalla, the screens are filled with red flames and the orchestra finally becomes silent.

In Birmingham the applause and standing ovations were tremendous – and richly deserved. This really has been an epic journey.”     …



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Everything, of course, is built upon the orchestra, teemingly textured with Leitmotiven we have learned to assimilate during the 14-plus hours of the tetralogy, and under the well-paced baton of Richard Farnes the Orchestra of Opera North provided a wonderfully warm, sonorous, detailed and subtle cushion for the uniformly brilliant soloists.

Many of the singers had come with the valuable experience of singing in Longborough Festival Opera’s Ring cycle: Alwyn Mellor the most touching Brunnhilde I have ever heard, subtle right to the end of her world-denouncing Immolation; Mati Turi a much more genial Siegfried than we usually suffer, and capable of disguising his voice in the horrid betrayal scene; and Lee Bisset was one of a trio of Norns with unexpected personality.

Of the other soloists, Eric Greene was a thoughtful, self-doubting Gunther, Orla Boylan a Gutrune much more three-dimensional than this normally wan cipher, and as their villainous half-brother Hagen Mats Almgren sang chillingly and had the look of one of the nastiest of Eastenders.  Susan Bickley’s Waltraute, so grippingly delivered,”     …








Review by Alfred Hickling, Guardian (Leeds Town Hall performance):

Click here for full review



Review by Rupert Christiansen, Telegraph (Leeds Town Hall performance):

Click here for full review



Review by Graham Rickson, TheArtsDesk (Leeds Town Hall performance):

Click here for full review



Wagner’s Ring: Siegfried

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2012/13… more events…

Part of Entertaining Erdington… more events…

Saturday 22nd June, 4:30pm

Symphony Hall

Opera North

Annalena Persson Brünnhilde

Mati Turi Siegfried

Richard Roberts Mime

Michael Druiett The Wanderer

Jo Pohlheim Alberich

Mats Almgren Fafner

Fflur Wyn Voice of the Forest Bird

Ceri Williams Erda

Richard Farnes conductor

Peter Mumford concert staging and lighting design

Wagner   Siegfried 255’

This concert has a running time of c.5 hours and 45 minutes including two intervals of 30 and 60 minutes.

Opera North’s production of Wagner’s Ring combines both visual impact and great singing and playing. In the words of The Times on Das Rheingold, ‘Farnes has done many fine things at Opera North, but his pacing of this 150-minute sweep of music, his care about balance… and the sumptuousness of the orchestral textures – all this constitutes a massive achievement.’ In the penultimate part of this great tragedy of love and power, the hero Siegfried awakens the warrior maiden Brünnhilde, lying in a deep sleep surrounded by a magic fire, and makes her his wife.

Beg, borrow or be like Wotan and steal a ticket… make sure you catch the rest of Opera North’s Ring as it unfolds over the next four years Richard Morrison, The Times

Oliver Condy, Editor of BBC Music Magazine, explains why he has recommended tonight’s concert:

Opera North have risen to the challenge of performing Wagner’s entire Ring Cycle over four years – if the first performance is anything to go by, this third instalment looks set to be as thrilling as ever.

Click here to watch a video by Opera North around the rehearsal and performance of the previous installment of The Ring, Die Walküre.

Read an introduction to the music of Siegfried by Andrew Fairley.



“Siegfried: the vocal and mental challenges of Wotan” A chat with Michael Druiett – Click here for Youtube video



Review by Rupert Christiansen, Telegraph:

Click here for full review

…     “But it’s not an easy thing to pull off, and I am breathless with admiration for Opera North, punching above its weight in producing a concert performance which any musical organisation in the world would be proud of. The evening’s chief hero is the conductor Richard Farnes, who, like the opera’s protagonist, seems to know no fear. Motivating his excellent orchestra, he trusts the music’s flow, paces it unerringly and never forces or grandstands the climaxes. This isn’t an interpretation predicated on showcasing highlights: it simply tells the story.”     …

5 5 out of 5 stars*****



Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “When Brünnhilde awoke, Annalena Persson showed how to make a goddess, realizing she has been reduced to mere mortality, believable and touching. The lovers’ increasingly ecstatic duet was a fitting climax to a thrilling performance in which there was not a single weak link. Richard Roberts’ Mime was accurately and pointedly sung, without the customary and unnecessary cackling; Michael Druiett’s Wanderer was noble, imposing and with a nice line in irony; Jo Pohlheim’s baleful Alberich sounded formidable; Ceri Williams and Mats Almgren were convincing as Erda and Fafner while Fflur Wyn’s Woodbird was sweetly sung.

Richard Farnes conducted a performance of immense power with the often dark score irradiated by shimmering subtle details. The players, from tuba to triangle, were magnificent, the strings ardent, brass louring and woodwind full of character – and hats off to the first horn!”   

Wagner’s Ring: Die Walküre

Wagner’s Ring: Die Walküre

Birmingham International Concert Season 2011/12

Part of Symphony Hall 21st Anniversary Festival… more events…

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2011/12… more events…

Saturday 30 June

Symphony Hall

Symphony Hall logo

Opera North
Alwyn Mellor Sieglinde
Annalena Persson Brunnhilde
Erik Nelson Werner Siegmund
Béla Perencz Wotan
Katarina Karnéus Fricka
Clive Bayley Hunding
Katherine Broderick Helmwige
Meeta Raval Ortlinde
Miriam Murphy Gerhilde
Jennifer Johnston Waltraute
Madeleine Shaw Siegrune
Catherine Hopper Rossweisse
Antonia Sotgiu Grimgerde
Emma Carrington Schwertleite
Richard Farnes conductor
Dame Anne Evans artistic consultant
Peter Mumford concert staging and lighting/projection design

Erik Nelson Werner replaces Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts in the role of Siegmund.

Wagner Die Walküre  

This concert has a running time of c. 5 hours 30 minutes including two intervals:

Act 1: 66’

Interval 30’

Act 2: 94’

Interval 60’

Act 3: 73’

Opera North is joined by an outstanding international cast for the second instalment of their four-year Ring cycle. In Die Walküre the focus shifts from the politics of the gods to human passion. As the epic saga unfolds, we meet the ill-fated children of the gods, discover the magical sword that will forever shape their destiny, and encounter the fearsome Valkyries whose legendary ride has never sounded more exciting than here in its original context.

Concert performance sung in German with English surtitles. Please note surtitles may not be visible from every seat. Symphony Hall is a large hall and surtitles can be harder to read from the Grand Tier. To be sure of best visibility, book seats in centre stalls, centre circle or centre upper circle or check with box office before booking.

One of a series of Wagner’s greatest operas, performed in the space of 6 months as part of Symphony Hall’s 21st Anniversary Festival.
The Royal Opera: Die Meistersinger – Wednesday 11 January
Tristan und Isolde – Saturday 3 March
Good Friday: Gergiev conducts Parsifal – Friday 6 April



Blog post by RestrictedView, Recitative:

Click here for full review

…     “That Wotan was quite a revelation. Hungarian bass-baritone Béla Perencz had a large, resonant voice and bags of dramatic oomph to lavish on the role. His anger in Act 3 was as formidable as his farewell was touching. Katarina Karnéus started out seeming slightly underpowered as Wotan’s hectoring but entirely reasonable wife, Fricka. However, by the time of her hymn she was launching a fearless attack on him, relishing the drama of the confrontation, and thoroughly enjoying her triumph over Brünnhilde. Clive Bayley had the equal measure of Hunding’s bluster and danger, using a voice of quite astonishing size to project it to the furthest reaches of Symphony Hall (and had a door been left open probably most of the West Midlands). Siegmund was Erik Nelson Werner and it was a joy to have the lead principals completed by so strong a performance.”     …


Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “Wagner’s music was confidently handled by the Orchestra of Opera North and conducted by Richard Farnes.

And all of the singers rose to the challenge. Annalena Persson made a very human Brunnhilde, the Valkyrie who loses her divinity after understanding love for the first time and disobeying her father. We saw her defiant and then humble as she tried to appeal to the better nature of her father Wotan (Bela Perencz) but also very gentle and caring when she entered the world of mortals.”     …


Blog review by BH, Larkreviews:

Click here for full review

…     “The second instalment of Opera North’s semi-staged Ring Cycle came to Birmingham to a rapturous ovation. It was well deserved. In over half a century of Walküre performances, I can’t recall a line up of Valkyries as effective as that which hit us at the start of Act 3. Not only were the individual singers exemplary, but their combined strength, within the Symphony Hall acoustic, was thrilling in a way that is rarely true of the opera house.”     …


Reviews for performances elsewhere…

Review by Tim Ashley, Guardian (for performance at Leeds Town Hall)

Click here for full review

Review by Rupert Christiansen, Telegraph (for performance at Leeds Town Hall)

Click here for full review

Review by Ron Simpson, WhatsOnStage (for performance at Leeds Town Hall)

Click here for full review

Review by Graham Rickson, TheArtsDesk (for performance at Leeds Town Hall)

Click here for full review

Review by Sarah S Scott, ChronicleLive (for performance at Sage Gateshead)

Click here for full review

Wagner’s Ring: Das Rheingold

Birmingham International Concert Season 2010/11

Fri 24 Jun 7:30pm at Symphony Hall

Opera North
Richard Farnes conductor
Peter Mumford concert staging and lighting design
Dame Anne Evans artistic consultant

Michael Druiett Wotan
Nicholas Folwell Alberich
Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke Loge
Yvonne Howard Fricka
Andrea Baker Erda
James Creswell Fasolt
Gregory Frank Fafner
Giselle Allen Freia
Peter Wedd Froh
Derek Welton Donner
Richard Roberts Mime
Jeni Bern Woglinde
Jennifer Johnston Wellgunde
Sarah Castle Flosshilde

Nicholas Folwell replaces Joachim Seipp, Jeni Bern replaces Meeta Raval.

Wagner Das Rhinegold 150’

There will be no interval and the concert will end at approximately 10pm.

A collaboration of Opera North, The Sage Gateshead and Symphony Hall, Birmingham.
The Opera North Future Fund is a major supporter of Das Rheingold.

Opera North is now recognised as the most interesting UK opera company outside of London’ Financial Times

‘Whichever other Ring cycles you go to, Opera North’s will, I’m sure, offer rich musical and dramatic rewards’ The Spectator

‘Richard Farnes’s superb, impassioned conducting leaves you in no doubt that you are hearing a masterpiece, and his excellent orchestra respond magnificently to his inspirational baton, whetting the appetite for his Ring.’ Sunday Times

Das Rheingold is the first part of Wagner’s Ring, one of the world’s greatest musical epics: a brooding mythological tragedy of love, power and vengeance. There is no greater challenge for any opera company, and this new production by Opera North is their first. Artistic Consultant Dame Anne Evans mentors a cast that blends artists experienced in this repertoire with the best of new talent. Each of the four parts will be performed at Symphony Hall over the next four years. Join us for an unforgettable journey through one of the world’s greatest sagas.

‘Even more admirable is the quality of the performance. Farnes has done many fine things at Opera North, but his pacing of this 150-minute sweep of music, his care about balance (not a single vocal line is overwhelmed, even in this opulent acoustic) and the sumptuousness of the orchestral textures – all this constitutes a massive achievement’ The Times 5* review of Das Rheingold

‘All of the admirably committed Opera North cast are adept at conveying character by gesture and expression and the semi-staging works well for anyone not seeking an ‘interpretation’.’ What’s On Stage 4* review of Das Rheingold

Watch Richard Farnes discuss Wagner, tabloid sensations, the Ring cycle and Das Rheingold

Read Richard Farnes’s blog introduction to Das Rheingold

Read Michael Druiett’s blog on taking on the role of Wotan.

Sung in German with English surtitles.

RT @Opera_North Das Rheingold will be broadcast live on @bbcradio3 tonight [1st July]  from 7.20pm, listen in here #ONRing

Blog Review by Intermezzo:

…     “Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s camp Loge assumed the comic position more usually occupied by Alberich and Mime (Richard Roberts, wonderfully whiny). Jeni Bern, Sarah Castle and especially Jennifer Johnston were as fine a trio of Rhinemaidens as you could expect to hear anywhere. Peter Wedd and Derek Welton provided a sharply-characterised Froh and Donner, but it was Giselle Allen’s lusciously-voiced Freia who impressed me most.”     …

Review by ? Birmingham Post:

…     “And under Richard Farnes the ON orchestra unfolds this tremendous score seamlessly, meticulous in detail (one example: 12 anvils and six harps – how often do you get that?), and contoured into one vast paragraph spanning two-and-a-half hours which fly by. Peter Mumford, who also designed the sensitive, point-making lighting, has given the opera a staging which gives worthwhile food for thought: the tiresome Froh and Donner are virtual lookalikes, as are the giants Fasolt and Fafner; Fricka, normally such a shrew, is here elegant and convincing in Yvonne Howard’s portrayal; Loge is appropriately camp, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke reflecting his ambivalent relationship with the gods; Andrea Baker a scary Erda; and Michael Druiett imposing as Wotan.

But the chief triumph of characterisation is what is normally the loathsome, contemptible dwarf Alberich.”        …

Review for Leeds performance by Anna Picard, Independent:

…     “Considering the heft of an enlarged orchestra, the delicacy was impressive: the tender oboe accompaniment to Yvonne Howard’s melancholy Fricka, the sly bassoon beneath Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s charismatic Loge, the bell-like blend of the Rhinemaidens (Jeni Bern, Jennifer Johnston, Sarah Castle).

With lighter voices, Wagner’s text crackles and bites. Giselle Allen’s Freia, Dervek Welton’s Donner, Peter Wedd’s Froh and Richard Roberts’s Mime carried easily, while Nicholas Folwell’s bull terrier of an Alberich bristled with fury and envy. As Fasolt and Fafner, James Creswell and Gregory Frank made Freia’s abduction explicitly brutal. But was Michael Druiett’s Wotan meant to be a stuffed shirt? Das Rheingold is the start of Wotan’s downfall: it will be interesting to see how he develops when Opera North tackles Die Walküre.”     …

Review for Leeds Performance by Tim Ashley, Guardian:

…     “We’re in for something special, if Rheingold is anything to go by. Despite a couple of flaws, this was one of the most enthralling Wagner performances of recent years.”     …

Review for Leeds performance, byGraham Rickson, ArtsDesk:

…     “Three large video screens are suspended above the orchestra platform and the singers do much more than just enter, stand up straight and deliver. You forget that you’re in Leeds on a Saturday night, so engaging is the effect, and only occasionally do you notice the presence of more than 100 grinning musicians sitting behind the cast, visibly delighted at just how well the whole thing works.”    [ …]

[…] Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s Loge steals the evening; it’s his dubious advice which has led to Wotan’s problems, and Ablinger-Sperrhacke is compelling to watch, with his virtuoso display of shifty body language, fussy hand gestures and insincere facial expressions. The biggest cheers of the evening deservedly went to Nicholas Folwell’s Alberich, a charismatic pantomime villain inviting both sympathy and scorn, especially during his scenes with Richard Roberts’s wretched Mime, a perfect physical match for Folwell.”     …