During one of this summer’s hottest days, a large cast of young and aspiring opera singers are rehearsing the finale for act 1 of a new version of Don Giovanni, while planes are regularly descending into the nearby airport. All this week, the cast will be on stage in an ambitious enterprise for any opera company, eight performances a week for six weeks, just as well they have three revolving casts.
The writer and director of the show, Robin Norton-Hale admits it is a huge risk, and they are all anxiously waiting for the press night on Monday to hear what the critics have to say. The company, OperaUpClose, have however built up a loyal following despite its short existence. As well as winning a coveted Olivier award, they have helped create one of the biggest art trends around at the moment; fringe opera.
Hardly a week will go by before we hear of some new, or newish, company performing in an orchard, or town hall or warehouse to an audience largely made up of a younger yet still appreciative age group. Norton-Hale says that they feel as if they are part of a movement, and his personal opinion is that there are many young theatre makers who are opera fans, but whereas before there were few opportunities to stage an opera, OUC has proved it can be done.
The story of OUC begins in the 35 seater pub The Cock Tavern in London, where they performed La Bohème in an unusually intimate yet striking setting. They gave the regulars a shock when they moved into the bar for the second act. They then took the show to the Kings Head pub in Islington, and last year took up residency at the Little Opera House.
La Bohème transferred to the Soho theatre in the West End and performed to sell out houses, culminating in them walking away with the Olivier awards in the category for best new opera production. No mean feat when you consider their opposition on the shortlist included the likes of the English National Opera and the Royal Opera Company.
Norton-Hale obviously recalls that time fondly, and says that the entire company had been ecstatic just to be nominated, and assumed that they were not going to win. He paid tribute to the judges for recognising this new opera movement and felt that they had reached out and applauded them by giving them the award.