FORTY years ago Opera North gave its first performance.

Then known as English National Opera North - an offshoot of English National Opera - it had the aim of delivering high-quality opera to the people of northern England.

Up to then, the north had no permanently established opera company. The company gave its first performance, of Saint-Saëns's Samson and Delilah, on 15 November 1978.

In 1981, the company's name was changed to Opera North, and became an independent company in its own right.

Fast forward to 2018 and an exciting new season has been announced. It opens in September with a new production of Tosca, directed by Edward Dick, which will tour alongside a revival of The Merry Widow, two works composed at the beginning of the 20th century, with Europe on the brink of change.

From its premiere in 1900, Tosca has remained a crowd-pleaser, despite - or perhaps owing to - the darkest of themes: political persecution, sexual blackmail, jealousy, torture and murder. Yet it is essentially a drama of human emotions, setting two lovers in troubled times against one of opera’s most complex and depraved villains.

Franz Lahar's Merry Widow raises the question of who the young, beautiful and stupendously wealthy widow Hanna Glawari will take as her second husband. It is is a matter of national economic importance for the little-known and nearly bankrupt Balkan state of Pontevedro, which risks losing millions is she marries a foreigner.

In autumn, arts organisations in Leeds will collaborate to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.

American composer Kevin Puts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night, based on the true story of the 1914 Christmas truce, will be performed at Leeds Town Hall, as part of a series of events planned in association with West Yorkshire Playhouse and Leeds City Council.

The opera - which will be directed by Tim Albery and conducted by Nicholas Kok - has received numerous performances in North America since its 2011 premiere, and Puts’ score has been praised as lyrical, cinematic and expressive; a richly textured and deeply affecting contemporary work.

Further collaborations between the three organisations include a concert based on Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, and a new First World War-themed commission by Will Todd for the young singers of the Opera North Children’s Chorus, Young Voices, and Youth Chorus.

Many other operas within the season also explore themes around conflict both directly and symbolically: national identity, patriotism and emerging statehood; abuse, enslavement and exile; political and religious persecution; sacrifice and betrayal; the ending of old orders and the dawning of the new. And above all, conflict’s human face: the experiences and relationships between people caught in the tides of historical change, and the overriding power of hope.

The company’s general director Richard Mantle comments: “Opera North’s purpose is to create extraordinary experiences every day, using music and opera to entertain, engage, challenge and inspire. In this, our 40th year, we seek to reinvigorate our incredible art form for the 21st century, and to share our work in new ways with more people across the whole of the north of England and beyond.”

Opera North also presents regular seasons in several other cities, at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, the Lowry Centre, Salford Quays and the Theatre Royal, Newcastle.

A further new commission focusing on the experiences of women during wartime, Not Such Quiet Girls, will be co-produced by Opera North and West Yorkshire Playhouse, telling the stories of three women on the front line during the First World War.

Bringing together an all-female chorus of sung voices and three female actors, this new musical drama, written by Jessica Walker with musical arrangement by Joseph Atkins, weaves a moving narrative through staged scenes, film projections, music hall songs and forgotten rarities by early 20th century female composers, shining a light on some of the neglected women’s voices from the Great War.

Directed by Jacqui Honess-Martin from West Yorkshire Playhouse, Not Such Quiet Girls will be performed at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds as a companion piece to Silent Night.

Says Richard: “Given the current mood of change as the UK renegotiates its ties and relationships within Europe, it could not be a more appropriate or important time to reflect on the major conflicts of the last century, and to explore the many different dimensions of their human experiences and cultural impacts. This theme is anchored by Kevin Puts’ Silent Night, which finds a moment of humanity amongst the horror and futility of war, and the new work Not Such Quiet Girls, which highlights the lesser known stories of women during wartime.”

A dramatic concert staging of Aida concludes the year. Opening at Leeds Town Hall and touring to major concert venues throughout the country, this new production will be directed by Annabel Arden, whose award-winning Turandot for Opera North electrified audiences in 2017.

*For details of further events visit Ticket sales: 0844 848 2720; General enquiries: (0113) 243 9999