AFTER a year’s worth of preparation, and 50 years’ worth of operatic endeavour, York Opera finish their golden anniversary year in style with a fully staged production of Puccini’s grand opera Turandot.

From Tuesday, an orchestra of more than 40 players and a cast of more than 50 singers will gather at York Theatre Royal for one of the most ambitious of all operas.

York Opera are more than up for the challenge, this being the fourth time the group has performed the opera in their five decades of entertaining the citizens of York and the surrounding areas.

Turandot has previously been a milestone production for the group as it was the first ever production they performed in the Theatre Royal in 1986. There is a certain symmetry to them celebrating another important milestone with the same opera, 30 years on, especially given that it will be their first performance in the refurbished theatre.

Turandot tells the story of the titular princess gripped by crazed bloodlust who rules over an empire. She has decreed that she will only marry a prince who manages to solve her three enigmas. So far none has been able to decipher them, and the punishment for failure is to be beheaded.

It is one of the most famous of the grand operas, not only due to its sheer scale and brilliant musical score, but also due to it containing some of the most famous arias in opera history, including the iconic Nessun Dorma, performed in the dramatic final act.

The inclusion of this well-known aria wasn’t the only musical motivation for picking Turandot. The opera has a large chorus section, allowing all members of York Opera to get involved, singing music rarely performed by non-professional groups.

Despite York Opera having performed Turandot three times previously, it remains a challenging sing. It is particularly challenging for York Opera newcomer Kevin De Sabbata, a PhD student in Law at the University of Leeds, who will be playing the role of Pang not in his native Italian, as it is traditionally performed, but in English.

“Translating means often destroying the original meaning, and having new words to music you are familiar with is quite strange,” says the Italian tenor. “It is definitely harder to sing in English rather than Italian. The Italian language has a natural melody that lends itself to singing pure vowels and creating a good vocal line.” Nonetheless he is looking forward to the challenge and to performing with the group for the first time.

Hilary Dyson, chairman for the past four years, considers it to be a privilege to be leading the  group at such an important moment in their history. “The endurance of York Opera to have thrived for 50 years, when so many other amateur groups have disappeared - not just in North Yorkshire, but throughout the country -shows how talented our performers are, how dedicated our backstage and administrative teams are.”

Turandot will be performed by York Opera on November 8, 9 and 11 at 7.15pm and on November 12 at 4pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

By Michael Foster