OperaUpClose was founded in October 2009 by Adam Spreadbury-Maher, Ben Cooper and Robin Norton-Hale for the experiment of producing La Bohème at the Cock Tavern Theatre in Kilburn, a 35-seat theatre above a very rough pub. We had no idea if anyone would come to see the show, or even whether opera singers would be prepared to work in such a gritty, fringe environment.
With equal amounts of delight and trepidation, we fielded requests for press night tickets from an astonishing number of national papers (for most pub theatre shows, it’s a coup to get one national critic in), and watched as tickets for the first fortnight sold out before we’d started previews. We’d clearly hit on something – the question was, would the show live up to it?
Photograph by Adam Levy
Since then, our La Bohème has run for nearly six months at the Cock Tavern (becoming the longest continuously running opera in the UK in the process), had two critically-acclaimed and sold-out runs at Soho Theatre, and won the 2011 Olivier Award for Best Opera Production. It is not false modesty to say we have been astonished – ecstatic, too, of course – at the runaway success of our crazy idea.
In October 2010 OperaUpClose became the resident company at the King’s Head Theatre, re- launching the venue as a small-scale off-West End alternative to London's two established opera houses and opening the season with our second production, The Barber of Seville (or Salisbury). We have now produced ten new opera productions here: Barber, Madam Butterfly, Cinderella, Pagliacci, The Coronation of Poppea, The Turn of the Screw, Manifest Destiny, La Fanciulla del West, Carmen and Tosca (a co-production with Malmo Opera in Sweden), all in new English versions – including, in Poppea’s case, a libretto by Mark Ravenhill, with a new aria by Michael Nyman.
We feel passionately about producing contemporary opera as well as new versions of the classics, so this autumn we launched Flourish, a competition to find a new chamber opera. We were overwhelmed by the quality and variety of the entries and at a showcase of the finalists' work in September chose not just a winner (Two Caravans by Guy Harries and Ace McCarron, which will get a full production at the King's Head in 2013) but a runner-up (Katarzyna Brochocka and Gabriela Zapolska's Young Wife) which we fely strongly also deserved to be produced. So far we have Arts Council funding for one production but not two - watch this space!
In 2013, as well as our Flourish winners, we'll present new productions of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore and Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera and our second co-production with Malmo Opera, La Traviata, at the King's Head. We're proud to have been the first opera company to perform at Soho Theatre, initially with La Bohème, and last summer with our electronica-tinged production of Don Giovanni, and we're also building a touring reputation, with our production visiting venues from the Bristol Tobacco Factory to the Coventry Belgrade to Bestival.
Writing all this down, we're not quite sure how we've managed to stay sane and solvent so far. If you would like to support us by becoming a friend of patron then click here for more information.
We hope you'll join us for more opera that is exciting, accessible and (of course) up close, very soon.
Robin Norton-Hale & Adam Spreadbury-Maher
Artistic Directors, OperaUpClose
La Bohème opened at The Cock Tavern Theatre on 8 December 2009 and ran sold out for six months until 15 May 2010, with 126 performances. It then transferred to Soho Theatre, opening on 27 July 2010 and running sold out until 4 September 2010. The show returned to its home at The Cock Tavern Theatre for an exclusive three week run in December 2010, to celebrate its first birthday. It returned to Soho Theatre from 10 January - 19 February 2011 for another sell-out season. It won the 2011 Laurence Olivier Award "Best New Opera Production" and the 2011 Whatsonstage.com Award "Best Off-West End Production". As of 30 October 2012 it is running at Charing Cross Theatre for three months. For more information and to book, click here.
Photograph by Simon Kane