1. Ever Eclectic
The opening performance at the original Assembly Room was given by the conjuror Dr Lynn in 1879. Over the next three decades the venue hosted a variety of entertainment from magic and minstrel shows to musical concerts, balls and religious meetings.
2. A Century of Cinema
The Assembly Room opened as a cinema in 1907 with ‘an enthralling programme in a hall magnificently fitted up and transformed into a miniature theatre’ (Yorkshire Evening News). The opening picture was a film of Little Tich, a celebrated music hall turn whose bizarre antics have dated surprisingly well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5ZXb61-BQw
3. A Dubious Chapter
In 1958 the venue opened as the Plaza Cinema, showing B movies and risqué continental titles including taboo-busting Swedish “art film” I Am Curious (Yellow), and notorious Italian exploitation flick Mondo Cane – complete with a rather obviously orchestrated, Father Ted-style protest outside. Down with this sort of thing!
4. Hidden Glories
The cinema suffered a nitrate film fire in 1923, after which its interior was redeveloped in a classical style (first two images). In 2007, Opera North began stripping back this wood and stucco cladding to reveal the original Victorian gothic barrel-vaulted ceiling and arched windows, dating from the 1880s (Richard Moran image).
5. Now Showing
Opera North pays tribute to the Howard Assembly Room’s celluloid history with its FILMusic programme, featuring newly-commissioned scores and live soundtrack performances. This Autumn, a screening of Dario Argento’s operatic 1977 gore-fest Suspiria, with live soundtrack by Goblin, harks back to the venue’s grindhouse days.
6. Opera North’s Testbed
During rehearsals for 2016’s monumental Ring Cycle, the Orchestra of Opera North crammed into the Howard Assembly Room, anvils and all, for a month of rehearsals. Earlier in the year the venue hosted the world premiere of Opera North’s chamber opera Pleasure, featuring Lesley Garrett as a toilet attendant in a gay club – and lots of neon.
7. Bringing the world to Leeds
In its first decade as Opera North’s smaller scale venue, the Howard Assembly Room has played host to Tuareg rockers, Malian lutenists, Tuvan throat-singers and Romanian Gypsy legends. Autumn 2016 sees visits from Sufi trance group The Master Musicians of Jajouka, Portuguese fadista Claudia Aurora, South African icons The Mahotella Queens, and the sounds of ancient Corsica with A Filetta.