I first came across OperaUpClose a few years ago, when I wanted to try opera for the first time but felt intimidated by the famous venues. I was instantly hooked by the intimacy and intensity of the paired down performance in the pub theatre. They did succeed in kick-starting my appreciation of opera but, even though I now do like the spectacle of Covent Garden, I still try and see all their shows. There is something magical and intimate about their performances which makes them unique. As I came to know the team behind OperaUpClose, I always found them welcoming to newcomers, willing to explain about opera with a passion which is infectious and that their friendship was genuine. I became a formal friend in part because I enjoy their shows so much but also because I believe they do such a good job at promoting opera to people who wouldn't otherwise see it. Whenever I meet someone who is unsure about opera, I always recommend they go and see OperaUpClose as I am sure it will convince them. Finally, I think their work in commissioning new performances by up and coming writers is vital for keeping London the vibrant place it is for arts.
David Bull, Member of OperaUpClose Friend scheme
I first saw an OperaUpClose production when I took my daughter and her friends to La Bohème for her 12th birthday. "This is a classic," I said. "Oh, NO, not OPERA," they moaned. Needless to say, they were utterly riveted. Seven years on I have taken all four of my children to many OperaUpClose productions; we have loved every one. For them, they are bewitching, relevant, comprehensible renditions of the great Western canon. For me? The same. The quality is superb, both in musicality and drama, while the accessibility - both in terms of venue and ticket price - makes opera reachable, relevant and renewed. Hugely recommended.
Rosie Millard, Chair, Hull City of Culture 2017. Former Arts Editor, New Statesman
I have been attending OperaUpClose productions for the past five years and have watched it expand out of the original ‘pub theatre’ context that first made it famous and into conventional theatres both in London and on tour, steadily pushing up musical and dramatic standards as it has grown.
I have particularly noted Robin Norton-Hale’s development both as a leader and as an artist. As Chief Executive she has led the company courageously through some difficult transitions, notably the move from The King’s Head, and she has faced funding challenges with determination and resilience. Her work as director of several of the company’s most successful productions has grown steadily in confidence as her own distinctive artistic personality has emerged. She has also put significant emphasis on the commissioning of new work from younger composers and librettists – not an easy thing for a small company to achieve.
I have also had some contact with the Board which has recently been strengthened. It is well led and enthusiastic, with a proper sense of both risks and opportunities in the company’s unique mission.
OperaUpClose has grown significantly in reputation and reach since it first emerged in 2009. The company’s early productions rightly received huge acclaim, but the most difficult thing for a small performing arts organisation, living from hand to mouth in a challenging funding environment, is to maintain a consistently high quality of output. I believe OperaUpClose has already made a significant contribution to the creation of new audiences for opera in the UK. It now needs a secure funding base so that it can consolidate its achievements and develop its ambitions. This is the right moment to invest in its future.
Genista McIntosh (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall), Trustee of Southbank Sinfonia, Roundhouse, National Opera Studio & RSC. Former Chief Executive of ROH & Executive Director of NT. Founder Trustee of NESTA.
The Trainee Producer scheme provides unique opportunity for aspiring producers to learn on the job. It equipped me with all the skills and knowledge I needed to get started in the industry, with plenty of support along the way from a team of knowledgeable and experienced professionals. It’s challenging, fascinating and incredibly valuable, and I can’t think of a better way to start a career as a producer.
Rachel Lerman, Producer, ROH
We’ve been working with OperaUpClose for several years and their visits have been enthusiastically received by staff and audiences alike. Their style is refreshing and accessible and we look forward to continuing to host visits and to continue to build up our audiences for opera.
Joanna Reid, Executive Director, Belgrade Theatre
As a funder, we are mostly interested in supporting arts organisations that bring the performing arts to people who would not otherwise attend. OperaUpClose is doing exactly that. Seeking out, developing and nurturing relationships with new venues – especially those that have no previous experience of putting on contemporary opera – is not a superficial process. It takes time, commitment and knowledge. Our Trustees could see the value of a grant that would add some much needed additional capacity to a small team. In May 2016 they approved a grant of £20k which supports the salary costs of a new post, a part-time Programming & Marketing Officer, over 2-year period. The purpose of the funding is to help OperaUpClose to increase their touring work across the country and to enable them to reach a much wider audience. We anticipate that this seemingly modest grant will be transformative for the company at a time of significant step-change. We have enjoyed a wholly positive funding relationship with OperaUpClose this year, with the executive demonstrating successful recruitment and training. The project is being successfully delivered and communication with the John Ellerman Foundation is excellent.
Dorothee Irving, Director, John Ellerman Foundation
Redbridge Drama Centre is developing a more diverse programme of work and is collaborating with North East London Music Hub. We are keen to develop high quality musical theatre and opera for both participants and audiences, and OperaUpClose is a perfect fit in terms of ethos, and a new kind of work to offer our audiences.
Jonny Siddall, Director, Redbridge Drama Centre
I was actually 'discovered' by the Artistic Director of OperaUpClose (OUC) - Robin Norton Hale. I auditioned for her production of La bohème back in 2009 and at that time, I had had little exposure to, and almost no knowledge of, the world of opera (at that point I was a musical theatre singer). It was Robin who saw in me a young singer-actor who had the potential to sing on the lyric stage. She cast me as Rodolfo and it was that very production that went on to win the Olivier Award in 2010. Since then, things have developed in my career rather quickly. I was noticed by some key industry people. I was encouraged to attend the National Opera Studio in 2012/2013 and (amongst others) I have now sung principal roles at Scottish Opera, Northern Ireland Opera, Grange Park Opera and am about to have my debut at English National Opera.
Having sung in many different opera companies - both large and small, fixed and touring - OperaUpClose will always be an important part of my development as a singer and as a professional in general. Due to the nature of the productions, the action is very often "up close" and relies on convincing singer-acting (something that is difficult to perfect in colleges or on larger stages). It also gave me the opportunity and the freedom to explore things on stage whilst singing difficult roles and find out what my voice was truly capable of (and when I needed to perhaps reel it in a little!). Furthermore, as productions were revived/toured, you worked with various combinations of casts, which is a great preparation for the wider business as this happens in many opera houses (am currently singing in a Jonathan Miller revival at ENO). These experiences have been invaluable to me in other pieces and at other companies. Structurally, the company has developed so much since 2010 and the OUC leadership team are a very passionate bunch, who are clearly committed to making the company a success by presenting opera in a contemporary, accessible, affordable and likeable way to that all-important thing in the opera world, the audience!
As I mentioned before, I am now singing in larger opera houses however, if my schedule allows, I would always work with the company again due to their passion for the artform as well as the opportunity that they gave me and continue to give to other developing singers on their journey into the industry.