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 (with a new English libretto by Mark Ravenhill and a new aria by Michael Nyman), The Turn of the Screw, Manifest Destiny, La Fanciulla del West, Carmen, Tosca (a co-production with Malmo Opera in Sweden), L'elisir d'amore, Un Ballo in Maschera, Two Caravans, La Traviata (a co-production with Malmo Opera and the Belgrade Theatre), Die Fledermaus and a double bill of Dido & Aeneas and Young Wife.
We feel passionately about producing contemporary opera as well as new versions of the classics, so in autumn 2012 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) but a runner-up (Katarzyna Brochocka and Gabriela Zapolska's Young Wife). The winner of the 2013 competition was The Blank Canvas by Spyros Syrmos and Fay Wrixon, which will receive a full production at the King's Head Theatre in autumn 2014.
In 2014, as well as our Flourish winner and our recent production of Dido & Aeneas and Young Wife, we'll present a new production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro (our second co-production with the Belgrade Theatre) and at the end of the year, three of our best-loved productions will return to celebrate our 5th birthday. We're proud to have been the first opera company to perform at Soho Theatre, initially with La Bohème, and subsequently with our electronica-tinged production of Don Giovanni and last year Tosca. This summer we return to Soho for 6 weeks with La Traviata. We're also building a touring reputation, with our productions 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 orpatron 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.
Artistic Director, 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".
Photograph by Simon Kane