2012 bid to fulfil Leeds arts pioneer’s Carnival Messiah dream

Geraldine Connor.
Geraldine Connor.
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Friends and family of black arts pioneer Geraldine Connor have vowed to fulfil her final wish – and get her most famous piece of work played at the London Olympics opening ceremony next year.

The 59-year-old from Harewood – best known for her spectacular production Carnival Messiah – died suddenly last month of a heart attack.

Now her friends and family, led by Earl of Harewood David Lascelles and leading members of the city’s African-Caribbean community, are campaigning to get the colourful, operatic masterpiece played at London 2012. They also want to raise money to achieve Dr Connor’s ambition to develop the show into a commercial touring and West End production.

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At Dr Connor’s funeral at St Aidan’s Church last week, many family and friends made impassioned pleas for funds and support for the project. A collection was held at the end, and a message on the order of service urged people to “support the work Dr Geraldine Connor was doing to ensure that Carnival Messiah reaches a worldwide audience during the 2012 Olympics”.

Professor Gus John, who knew Dr Connor for 30 years and read her funeral eulogy, said: “Discussions were ongoing before Geraldine passed away. There was an exhibition in Manchester and a presentation was made to the Cultural Olympiad committee. We do want it to happen. And regardless of the Olympics we want to make sure that it’s somewhere in the West End by 2012.”

Professor John said the J’Ouvert committee – which is responsible for Carnival Messiah – would meet later this month to discuss the next stage of the campaign. He said Mr Lascelles, who chairs the committee, had been “totally associated” with the project ever since he and Dr Connor collaborated on putting Carnival Messiah on in the grounds of Harewood House, to spectacular success, in 2007.

Carnival Messiah, a radical reworking of Handel’s Messiah, is “a cross between spectacular opera, a major pop festival, church, and street theatre”. The show has been seen by more than 75,000 people since its 1999 debut.

Alex Newman, partner at Irwin Mitchell in Leeds

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