‘Opera in the north of England goes underappreciated,’ says soprano and singing teacher Jane Anthony – providing the motivation for her to launch her own opera company, Young Opera Venture (YOV). Around 30 young people were involved in YOV’s production of The Marriage of Figaro on 21 March at Barnsley’s Civic Theatre.
As a graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music, Anthony believes that opportunities for music graduates from northern music conservatoires are few and far between. YOV, which she has set up with conductor John Longstaff (they were respectively director and conductor of Opera Performance at Leeds College of Music) is her attempt to bridge the gap between higher education and large companies like Opera North.
They have already had some success: a 400-seat sell-out at Huddersfield at which, Anthony notes, ‘what was so gratifying was the number of youngsters and teenagers in the audience’. This relates to one of the central drives of YOV: Anthony fears that if opera isn’t given the investment and exposure it needs, it will die out. For that reason, YOV will be performing The Marriage of Figaro in English, to make it more accessible to the public.
The costs of setting up the company have come almost entirely out of Anthony’s own pocket, but she has had the assistance of some supporters of her message: that opera is important for everyone. The ‘venture’, for the moment, will be running on a small budget, with costumes borrowed and an orchestra stripped down to 12. Overall it provides work and performance experience for about 30 young people.
It is likely to be an uphill battle, she says, ticket sales for future performances having so far been unpredictable. However, for Anthony, this underscores the point: ‘Barnsley might not be the first destination for most touring opera companies, but, for me, it is a classic example of the kinds of places where we want to build audiences. I have no idea how big the audience will be on the night. If it’s small, then all the more reason to keep going back and build an audience though opera workshops and going into schools.’
The production will also appear at Wakefield’s Theatre Royal on 27 March.
Later this year YOV will be running several Opera Appetizer concerts, featuring some of the stand-out moments from opera classics to encourage people to see the works in their entirety. Operas include Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, Bizet’s Carmen and Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
There are upcoming concerts in Leeds, Halifax and Huddersfield, as well as others, beginning in June and going through until November, with plans for a Spring tour in early 2014.