Opera has long been an artform that has divided opinion: there are those who love it, those who have had very little exposure to it, and those who express no interest in it at all!
In recent years, the media would frequently mention that cultural organisations are making it their mission to make opera more accessible and appealing to the masses. We are delighted to say that a few rather exciting steps have been taken! The English National Opera (ENO) has started to release free tickets for under-18s and there are small professional touring groups currently offering very affordable deals. There are even opera performances in English to assist new audiences with their introduction to this breath-taking artform. The Royal Opera House and ENO also provide stimulating education schemes and workshops for children to get them engaging with the world of opera from a young age.
Did you know we are at the heart of one of the world’s most vibrant opera scenes? The Royal Opera House and ENO are not the only places where you can enjoy the opera, especially with the summer months around the corner. At this time of the year, summer opera festivals are all the rage! You have probably heard of Glyndebourne, Longborough and maybe even Garsington, which all take place outside of Greater London. But rather than trekking miles (and spending hundreds of pounds in the process) to watch top quality opera, we have some suggestions for festivals and venues a bit closer to home.
Opera Holland Park
For those of you looking for an opera festival in the heart of London that rivals Glyndebourne, look no further than Opera Holland Park! Located by Holland House in the stunning Kensington Park, Opera Holland Park stages around half a dozen operas every summer, often starring the biggest names in the opera world, and some of the UK’s most talented young artists. The 2019 season will be taking place between the 4th June and the 3rd August and will feature a wicked line-up that is sure to make for stimulating dinner conversation. Be sure to have a look into Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera (‘A Masked Ball’, which tells the chilling tale of the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden), and Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta (which famously inspired the well-known G&S operetta Iolanthe).
Once again, under-18s are eligible for free tickets, with over-65s being offered the same privilege at Opera Holland Park. There is also a scheme for under-30s with INSPIRE £20 tickets available to increase access to the operas. For more information on tickets, please visit their website here.
Opera in The City
This festival has only been running since Summer 2017, but it has already become one of the most exciting opera festivals in the capital. In the last two years, the Opera In the City festival has created a new hub for classical music right in the heart of the City in Fleet Street’s historic Bridewell Theatre. Unlike many other opera festivals, Opera In the City seeks to showcase rarely-performed works, new compositions and experimental pieces, and English translations to increase accessibility of these lesser-known works – perfect for someone with a more acquired taste when it comes to anything theatre or music related. They have yet to release the programme for the 2019 festival, but for more information keep an eye out here.
Parodying the world-renowned Glyndebourne, Grimeborn Opera Festival features a hip, East London twist on the summer festival, and is great for younger crowds. Having been up and running for over a decade, Grimeborn features bold new versions of classic operas, rarely-seen and long-forgotten works, and brand new pieces, in a similar vein to Opera In The City. Former performances include Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, The Prometheus Revolution by Keith Burstein, and Onegin and Tatiana (a modern version of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin). They will soon be announcing their 2019 festival, so keep an eye out for tickets on their website.
Whilst the nation’s go-to websites for events are usually the first port-of-call for show tickets, look beyond the first page of Google as it provides some great resources for opera in London as well as blogs and social media. It may seem like a niche subject on first thought, but it is easy to uncover a wealth of influencers, reviewers and even opera singers’ pages once you know where to look. Here are some of our favourites:
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With over two million likes on Facebook alone, this young London-based soprano’s blog is a great portal for information on the opera world from ‘the other side’. Having studied at London’s Royal College of Music, Charlotte gives frank and insightful advice on the industry and information about her upcoming performances.
Diary of a Londoness
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This blog is a hotspot for reviews and information on London’s cultural scene, with opera and theatre being a key focus. She has recently written a fantastic piece on London Opera Without Breaking The Bank, and has reviewed operas everywhere from ENO to Garsington festival. Check her out!
An opportunity to admire London’s hottest baritones, and read articles about opera as well? Don’t mind if we do.
Finally, our recommendations for the best operas to start with (if you’re a newcomer):
Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) – Mozart
You can’t go wrong with Mozart, and this fairy-tale opera is a perfect one to start with. Featuring famous music and arias, including the notorious ‘Queen of the Night’ aria, follow Prince Tamino and friends as they embark on a mission to rescue the Queen’s daughter, Pamina.
Carmen – Bizet
Many who have never seen an opera will still know the music of Bizet’s Carmen – it’s featured in many film and television soundtracks. Set in Seville, Carmen is a beautiful gypsy, who enchants and attracts the soldier Don Jose – with dramatic consequences! Listen out for the famous overture, and Carmen’s signature aria, ‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle’ a.k.a. the habanera.
Rigoletto – Verdi
A dark tragedy, but with some of the best music in the opera canon, Verdi’s Rigoletto is a masterpiece – but make sure to bring tissues! Rigoletto is a hunchbacked jester, working in the court of the licentious Duke of Mantua. When Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda, falls for the Duke, things rapidly go downhill. There’s drama from beginning to end, and look out for the Duke’s famous aria ‘La donna è mobile’ in Act III.