OMTF // OperaUpClose
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Robin Norton-Hale**Artistic Director
Amy NovadnieksProducer
Helen McKeownAdministrator
** main contact
Breaking with TraditionNov 2017
OperaUpClose's latest reimagining sets Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in the 1960s

Eugene Onegin is based on the verse novel by Pushkin, using text adapted from the original.  It had an unconventional structure for the time with ‘lyrical scenes’ that focus on the emotional development of the protagonists such as Tatyana in love and Onegin’s eventual realisation of what he has lost.  Tchaikovsky was concerned that the simplicity of the work would be overpowered by the conventional opera house treatment and determined that the first performance should be performed by conservatory students.

Given this context the opera lends itself well to a chamber production – which is where OperaUpclose come in, with their focus on reinventing well-known works in smaller, more intimate versions.  In this new English adaptation by Robin Norton-Hale the story has been transposed to the early 1960s, a world on the cusp of the women’s liberation movement when new thinking fought against old ways.  It’s a coming-of-age story, a requiem for lost innocence and a triumphant celebration of hard-won independence.  The central character is the fiercely intelligent but naïve Tatyana, whose sexual awakening and entanglement with Onegin results in a wiser, sadder but ultimately self-reliant heroine.  Infatuation and self-control do battle in a well-tailored world of sleek suits, with seasonal allusions to the snow-swept Russian landscape of the original.

OperaUpClose’s new version of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin premieres at the Arcola Theatre, London on November 22 where it remains for a month.

The Magic of the TheatreSep 2017
OperaUpClose reinvents Mozart's Magic Flute

Although they also produce world premieres, the OperaUpClose trademark is their bold, fresh take on classics from the operatic repertoire – their La bohème won an Olivier Award in 2011.  This autumn it is The Magic Flute that will receive their special treatment with a translation by Glyn Maxwell and an orchestration for small ensemble by Alex Beetschen.

The opera, which had the most successful run of any of his operas was Mozart’s first for a commercial rather than a court theatre.  It draws on the magical spectacle and earthy comedy of popular Viennese theatre and mixing exotic fairy tale with trials and triumphs it offers lots of scope for contemporary transformation.

Invited behind the velvet rope at London’s most exclusive club, Tamino doesn’t have time to stop for beggars, paparazzi, or even his girlfriend Pamina.  Going to bed after a blazing row later that night, this ordinary couple relive the events and encounters of the evening in dreams made extraordinary by the lateness of the hour, their befuddled senses, and a touch of magic.

Directed by Valentina Ceschi, this classic opera will be reimagined in fabulous new robes for the era of Trump and recessions, aiming to cast rays of light and love into contemporary darkness.

The OperaUpClose production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute opens at the Soho Theatre London on September 6 and runs for a month before touring.

End CallJul 2017
OperaUpClose mounts a new production of Poulenc's La Voix Humaine

Familiar with depression and doomed love affairs, Poulenc’s last opera La Voix Humaine (1959) was a deeply personal work based on the play of the same name by his long-standing friend Jean Cocteau.

An intense 50-minute tour de force for solo soprano, it was written for the French singer Denise Duval, leading lady in all of Poulenc’s operas.  She was also suffering an emotional crisis at the time and the work is a devastating musical portrait of a human being on the brink of disintegration.  Alone in her flat, Elle cradles the phone as she tries to put on a brave face for her ex-lover at the other end, hampered by crossed lines and wrong numbers.

It will be performed in an English translation by soprano Sarah Minns with Richard Black (piano), directed by OperaUpClose’s Artistic Director, Robin Norton-Hale.

Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine will be performed at King’s Place, London on July 2.

Shakespeare in Love, in Loathing and Laughter and all in MusicApr 2016
OperaUpClose join in the Shakespeare celebrations

The anniversary of Shakespeare’s death has inspired a variety of creative activity all round the world, just as Shakespeare’s work has inspired creative people in the last 400 years.  In the field of music, there have been orchestral pieces, songs and operas.  OperaUpClose are marking the occasion by devising a programme of songs, operatic arias and ensembles: there will be show-stoppers from Verdi’s Macbeth and quick-witted wordplay from Much Ado About Nothing and Falstaff alongside lesser known operas and well-loved songs like Schubert’s Who is Sylvia?

It’s the morning after a party and playboy Benedict has made another conquest.  A mysterious woman called Sylvia has given him her number.  While a heartbroken Beatrice despairs at Benedict’s womanising, Sylvia’s fiancé Demetrius discovers the affair.  Will these love triangles resolve themselves or will heartbreak and jealousy drive them to folly?

The OperaUpClose celebration Music oft hath such a charm will be performed at the North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford on April 15.

The Flourish Opera Competition, 2015Nov 2015
OperaUpClose presents a showcase of extracts from the four finalists

Murder is a pretty common event in opera, and there is certainly the odd ghost, but Bingo and architecture? Not so much.  These are the intriguing topics chosen by the finalists of the fourth annual competition run by OperaUpClose.

Opera Bingo by Eve Harrison and Andrew Loretto is an immersive musical theatre piece putting the audience in the centre of the action during a Bingo game which has life changing effects for its players.  The Rue Morgue is based on one of the most famous of all detective stories by Edgar Alan Poe.  Composer/ librettist Louis Mander sets the baffling and sometimes whimsical plot in an evocative and haunting Parisian sound world.  They Came Back is haunting in a different sense.  Composer/ librettist Martin Ward creates a world in the near future increasingly visited by the deceased; but are the messages they bring enlightening or are they dark omens?  And finally, Concrete is a satire on modernism set during the 1960s reconstruction of Britain by composer/ librettist Jonathan Pease.  Each of these will be presented to the audience and judges’ panel through a 15 minute extract and one will win the opportunity to be developed and produced by OperaUpClose in a full length production to be performed at Kings Place in Autumn 2016.

The 2015 Flourish Opera Competition Finalists’ Showcase takes place on Sunday November 22 at Kings Place, London.

OperaUpClose Goes SailingOct 2015
Homer's Odyssey is the inspiration for OperaUpClose's first work for families

OperaUpClose makes its debut at Kings Place with Ulla’s Odyssey, the world premiere of a nautical fantasy by New Zealand composer Anthony Young and Canadian librettist Leanne Brodie.  The work, which includes puppetry, is designed for children aged 7+, families and ‘any adult with a sense of fun and wonder’.  It won the company’s own Flourish New Composition Award in 2014 and New Zealand company Opera Factory’s Chamber Opera Composition Competition in 2012.

The heroine, sixteen year old Ulla, is attempting to become the youngest person to sail the world single-handedly in her boat ‘The Homer’.  This part of the story has a basis in fact; two sailors, Laura Dekker and Jessica Watson, who both circumnavigated the globe solo, under the age of seventeen, were additional inspirations for the story.

Ulla, however, has her cat Binnacle to keep her company and encounters mythical creatures and obstacles on her journey, including Cy-ops, a one-eyed, over-keen robotic customs official who mistakes her cat for smuggled contraband, and Sylla, a dangerous sea creature whose body and mind have been horribly twisted by radioactive rubbish dumped into the ocean.  Meanwhile the voices of the Sirens, Ulla’s friends and family, call out, tempting her to come home.

OperaUpClose premieres Ulla’s Odyssey by Anthony Young and Leanne Brodie at Kings Place on Sunday October 11.  Performances will continue on Sundays until November 22.

Carmen - A Heroine for TodayAug 2015
OperaUpClose tackles a repertory favourite in their new summer production

OperaUpClose specialises in creating small scale productions to tour to small theatres and studio spaces.  Their intimate stagings provide revealing insights into plot and character and they’ve now taken on a number of repertory warhorses including La bohème, Don Giovanni and La traviata.  This summer Artistic Director Robin Norton-Hale is taking Bizet’s ever-popular Carmen and, in her own adaptation, setting it in a torrid South American landscape of dust and concrete, where small-town boredom and machismo can turn nasty.  Composer Harry Blake, who works with the company regularly, is providing an orchestration for a quartet of strings, woodwind and percussion.

The Carmen story is very familiar but when the opera was first performed her role as a fearless, strong-willed and very individual woman was not.  She is an anti-heroine, flawed and fascinating, who captivates and provokes.  Sparks fly when she meets José, but her passion cools, whilst his turns to obsession.  Although the opera was written in 1875 Carmen is one of the most contemporary of heroines: she will not give up her freedom for anyone.

OperaUpClose’s production of Carmen opens at the Soho theatre, London on August 5 where it remains until September 19.

Expect the UnexpectedJan 2015
OperaUpClose teams up with Ensemble Amorpha to premiere a taboo-busting musical satire

The Ensemble Amorpha, the Vault Festival and OperaUpClose all like to surprise their audiences: the first is a London-based chamber music ensemble dedicated to the performance of contemporary music for whom this is their first chamber opera; the Vault Festival has grown to became Londons’ biggest alternative mixed-arts festival and OperaUpClose specialises in intimate, surprising stagings of repertoire favourites.

OperaUpCloses’s first show after leaving its former home at the King’s Head Theatre in London is a cocktail of sex, drugs and exploitation; a satirical opera of 21st century excess.  Unborn in America blends cabaret, punk and politics with pop, trash and celebrity culture, fusing jazz and tribal rhythms with a contemporary new sound.

Luke Styles has completed his term as the first Glyndebourne Young Composer in residence and Peter Cant (librettist) is a multidisciplinary theatre-maker, director and writer.  Unborn in America was conceived back in 2011 and first seen as a ‘work in progress’ at Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival.  The full opera, opening at the Vault Festival, London, is set in ‘The Petri Dish’ – the afterlife’s cabaret bar for the unborn.  Every night aborted foetuses clamour to hear singing sensation Ziggy recount her savage journey to hell and back in her unpredictable smash show.

OperaUpClose’s world premiere of Luke Styles cabaret opera Unborn in America with libretto and direction by Peter Cant opens at the Vault Festival on January 29 and continues for three further performances.

OperaUpClose Opens a New Chapter in 2015 - but, first, their Fifth Birthday CelebrationsDec 2014
The Elixir of Love, La Boheme and the Barber of Seville will be the company’s last performances at the King’s Head, London

OperaUpClose will shortly be leaving the King’s Head Theatre, Islington, where since 2010 they have created a variety of acclaimed, award-winning and controversial productions.  Before embarking on their journey to pursue new avenues and partnerships, and to further develop their touring output, they are running a final anniversary season of some of the most popular works mounted and performed there.

The season opens on December 2 with Donizetti’s comedy The Elixir of Love, a keen-eyed dissection of the way love can confound even the cleverest, set at a 1950s Hollywood pool party complete with 3D glasses.  Puccini’s La Boheme, one of the most famous of all tragic romances, was the company’s first production in 2009, winning Olivier and WhatsOnStage Awards, transferring to the West End and touring internationally.  Playing over the Christmas period, the doomed romance between aspiring novelist Rodolfo and immigrant cleaner Mimi, while his friends flirt, fight and struggle to make ends meet, can be enjoyed in an intimate setting from where it occasionally spills out into the pub’s bar.  The final opera in the trio is Rossini’s Barber of Seville, the production with which OperaUpClose started their residency at the King’s Head in 2010.  A romance threatened by the heroine’s guardian is stage-managed to success by Figaro, the barber who knows everyone’s business and can fix hair and love lives with ease.  The production is set in Jane Austen's England, a world of rich, eligible bachelors, feisty heroines and snobbish relations.

The season ends on January 17 at which point the company’s recent production of the Marriage of Figaro will start touring beginning with the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry on January 21.

The OperaUpClose anniversary season at the King’s Head Theatre, London, opens on December 2 with Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love; continues with Puccini’s La Boheme (from December 16) and concludes with Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, from 6 January.

Cheers!Sep 2014
OperaUpClose takes Figaro to the pub

Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro is one of the world’s best-loved operas.  Not very surprising given both its composer and its story: great tunes, laugh-out-loud comedy and powerful insights into what it is to be human.

OperaUpClose specialise in taking repertory favourites and resizing them for their pub-theatre venue.  After successfully fitting La Boheme (an Olivier Award winner) and La Traviata into pint sizes they are reinventing Mozart’s popular comic opera with the help of a new English version by OperaUpClose’s Artistic Director, Robin Norton-Hale (La Boheme & La Traviata); a new arrangement for piano, viola and clarinet by Alex Beetschen, who also musically directs; and stage direction by Sarah Tipple, who has revived Anthony Minghella's Madam Butterfly for ENO and is founder and co-director of the award-winning Barbershopera.

On the day they are due to be married, Susanna horrifies Figaro by revealing that the unwanted attentions of his boss - the womanising Count - are becoming increasingly insistent.  Further complications are caused by highly-sexed teenager Cherubino's infatuation with the Countess, who loves her unfaithful husband but is flattered to be noticed by a much younger man.  Through quick thinking and subterfuge, the servants outwit the master and the women get the better of the men in a satirical romp that is joyful and subversive in equal measure.

The new OperaUpClose production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro opens at the Kings Head Theatre, Islington on September 24 and continues until November 8.

A Fresh CanvasAug 2014
OperaUpClose produces a work by the winner of their new opera competition

The annual Flourish New Opera Competition, now in its third year, aims to raise awareness of the wealth of contemporary opera by providing a platform for emerging and established composers and librettists.  Two stages are involved: extracts from up to seven successful submissions are presented at a showcase in September and the winning opera is given a year‘s development time with extensive creative support from OperaUpClose leading to a full-length production the following summer.

The winning work from 2013 is The Blank Canvas composed by Spyros Syrmos, a young Greek composer who studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, with an inventive score for piano, flute and vibraphone and a libretto by author Fay Wrixon.  Following development at a Music Theatre Wales masterclass with Sir Harrison Birtwistle it is being directed by Lucy Bradley, who has worked for Opera North, Glyndebourne and The Opera Group.  A lyrical love story, it explores a powerful and frightening subject; a celebrated painter fears that her hallucinations are a sign of madness, but has to confront the fact that they are caused by impending blindness.

OperaUpClose’s production of The Blank Canvas by Spyros Syrmos and Fay Wrixon opens at the King’s Head Theatre, London on August 31 and has three further performances on September 7, 14, and 21.

The next Flourish finalists Showcase takes place in the same venue on September 21.

Violetta - Ready for her Close UpAug 2014
OperaUpClose returns to the Soho Theatre with a new English version of Verdi’s La Traviata

OperaUpClose specialises in intimate productions and have had considerable success winning an Olivier award with La bohème in 2011.  La traviata (or The Fallen Woman), one of the most popular operas in the repertoire, is frequently seen in large opera houses around the world with full orchestras and opulent sets but the story, in which Violetta sacrifices her own happiness for the sake of her lover’s family and future, can be even more moving in an intimate setting.  This is the certainly the view of Director Robin Norton-Hale who has prepared a new English version which will open at the 40-seat Soho Theatre in London in August.  The production, orchestrated for a trio of clarinet, cello and piano by composer Harry Blake and set in the glitzy and dangerous 1920s underworld of speakeasies and bootlegging, reveals the hypocrisy and heartache behind the dazzling façade of parties.

Resident company at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington, OperaUpClose were the first opera company to perform in the Soho Theatre and this is their fourth collaboration as an associate company following La bohème in 2011, Don Giovanni in 2012 and Tosca in 2013.

This new adaptation of Verdi’s La Traviata presented by OperaUpClose in association with Soho Theatre opens at the Soho Theatre, London on August 5 and runs until September 14.

Double TroublesFeb 2014
OperaUpClose open their 2014 season with a double bill of Purcell's Dido & Aeneas and the UK premiere of a contemporary Polish satire, Young Wife

The company’s 16th production since its foundation in late 2009 contrasts tragedy and comedy, and musical styles around four hundred years apart – but the two protagonists both have minds of their own and very individual ways of resolving the dilemmas in which they find themselves.

Dido & Aeneas, probably the most familiar of English operas, tells the story of a powerful female ruler undone by her love for the young hero Aeneas.  The new OperaUpClose production directed by Valentina Ceschi sets it in the hothouse of an American high school, where teenage passions heighten Dido’s tragedy and betrayal.  It will be musically directed from the harpsichord by Alex Beetschen.

Young Wife is directed from the piano and created by Katarzyna Brochocka, a young Polish composer whose work has gained international recognition.  A finalist in OperaUpClose's inaugural Flourish opera writing competition in 2012, it is based on Gabriela Zapolska’s semi-autobiographical short story “The Diary of a Young Wife”, published in 1900.  Young Wife is a 21st-century satire and a gift of a role for solo soprano, portraying the pressures and pettiness of a stifling arranged marriage with biting wit.

The 2014 OperaUpClose season opens at the King’s Head Theatre, London with previews from February 19 (press nights February 24, 25) of the double bill of Purcell's Dido & Aeneas and the UK premiere of Katarzyna Brochocka's Young Wife.