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15 November 1978

The Opera

Samson and Delilah

(Music) Camille Saint-Saens

(Libretto) Ferdinand Lemaire


The opening season post for Opera North, which was originally known as "English National Opera North"

The Venue

Leeds Grand Theatre

New Briggate Street


The Orchestra of Opera North at Leeds Grand Theatre

Milestone moment

Opera North's opening performance

Opera North launched in 1978, following a prolongued battle to create a permanent opera company in the North of England (of the current 'Big 6' UK opera companies, Opera North is the youngest).

For a number of years, it looked as though Manchester would be the likely home for the proposed company, however the civic investment and show of concrete support from Leeds - not to mention the advocacy of English National Opera's Managing Director, and Lord of Harewood House, George Lascelles - made Yorkshire its eventual destination.

The company emerged from English National Opera (hence their original name of 'English National Opera North'), as a way of removing the touring requirements on the London company, and finally creating a full-time opera company for the North. In the decades leading up to this, Leeds was still kept well with opera, with the likes of the D'Oyly Carte Company, and the touring companies of English National Opera, Glyndebourne, Scottish Opera, and Welsh National Opera, all performing in the city. For all the good that Opera North brought to Leeds, it put an end to such a broad diversity of travelling companies visiting the city.

Under the leadership of Music Director, David Lloyd-Jones, Samson and Delilah opened the company's inaugural season, alongside Dido and Aeneas (feauring Ann Murray), The Breasts of Tiresias and La Boheme.

Opera North remains the North of England's only full-time opera company, and is joined in the city by Leeds Youth Opera (17 years Opera North's senior!), student socities at the University of Leeds, and Leeds Conservatoire, and Northern Opera Group.


'Samson and Dalila' from 1978


Phyllida Lloyd's multi-award-winning 'Peter Grimes' for Opera North from 2006

Opera context

Samson et Dalila

The opera premiere in Weimar in 1877. Though not remembered as as opera composer, Saint-Saens composed 12 works for the stage, including The Yellow Princess, which was staged by Northern Opera Group in 2018.

Samson is by far his most popular and most performed opera. Taken from the biblical story, it is notable for its leading mezzo role of Delilah, which is one of the most celebrated in opera for the voice type. Legendary mezzos including Shirley Verrett and Christa Ludwig recorded the opera.


The Moody Manners Company visited Leeds in 1911, with 'Samson' part of the tour - here it was presented in a double bill with Gatty's 'Duke or Devil'


There are many recordings to choose from, as well as DVD productions, including from the Royal Opera House.

This remastered recording features Christa Ludwig as Delilah, and James King as Samson.

Exhibition partners

Leeds Corn Exchange, Leeds Libraries, Leeds Museums, University of Leeds, West Yorkshire Archive Service

Main image

The Original Chinese Conjuror (Northern Opera Group, August 2018)

credit: Pelly & Me Photography

Exhibition curated by

Northern Opera Group



Supported by

National Lottery Heritage Fund


Leeds Inspired, part of Leeds City Council




David Ward (Artistic Director)


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