HMS Belfast sits regally on the Thames by Tower Bridge

Where next?  We have been lucky enough to perform in some stunning, unusual and historically important venues around the world, but we believe we made history last week performing opera for the first time during a private dinner in one of the elegant dining rooms on board HMS Belfast. Moored on the Thames by Tower Bridge in the heart of London and now open to the public for 362 days of the year, HMS Belfast is a fascinating museum ship supported by the Imperial War Museum and is well worth a visit! 

The historic ship was originally launched on St Patrick’s Day in 1939 shortly before the outbreak of World War II.  She was built as a town-class light cruiser for the Royal Navy but after the outbreak of war she saw a great deal of action acting as a blockade ship, escorting convoys and in battle.  After being struck by a German mine she underwent repairs and returned to action in 1942, going on to play a pivotal role in the Normandy landings.  She is one of only three remaining vessels from the bombardment fleet which supported the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944 – the other two are now moored in the United States.  Her bombardment of the German gun battery at La Marefontaine at Gold and Juno beaches meant that the battery was able to play no meaningful part in the defence of the beaches, allowing large numbers of allied troops to land in relative safety. 

Legend has it that HMS Belfast fired the opening shots at the Normandy landings on 6th June 1944, however the ship’s log confirms her first shots were actually fired four minutes after the first shot from a ship lying just to her west.  During her 33 days supporting the landings, HMS Belfast fired an incredible total of over 5,000 shells and the force from the constant firing of her impressive armament of guns cracked the crew’s loos!  The invasion of Normandy was the last time HMS Belfast fired her guns.  In July of that year, she set sail for Plymouth Devonport and a well-earned refit, before being despatched to the Far East.

A final fascinating fact about HMS Belfast:  as she sits by Tower Bridge her guns are trained and elevated in such a way that they are aimed directly at the London Gateway (or Scratchwood Services), the last service station on the M1 before you get to London.  The service station was chosen as the hypothetical target for obliteration as it happens to sit neatly on the radius of the guns’ comfortable range (about 18.5 km at 45º elevation).  Of course, the guns are no longer loaded or capable of firing, so you’re pretty safe if you stop there for a sandwich!

Singers in period costume standing in The Green Hall at Amorbach Abbey

We recently had the pleasure of performing in the stunning Green Hall of Amorbach Abbey in Germany. A more fitting setting for a performance of live opera would be hard to imagine, but this one in particular has a fascinating history with an interesting historical significance to the British Royal Family, which gives the location an especially wonderful atmosphere. 

Amorbach Abbey was originally a simple Benedictine Monastery, set in its current location from 734AD. Several turbulent centuries followed, throughout which it survived various wars and uprisings, and the Monastery then went on to enjoy wealth and significant power in the region, in the 1740’s the buildiongs undergoing a major Baroque refurbishment. The Abbey building remains to this day a significant example of early Rococo style architecture, although the Green Hall in which we performed, is in the Neoclassical style. The Monastery itself was finally dissolved in 1803 with the Abbey buildings and lands being given to the Princes of Leiningen as compensation for lost territories occupied in 1793 by French revolutionary troops. The Abbey buildings are still occupied by the Leiningen family to this day.

We all know, family trees can be a bit complicated – and the British Royal Family is no exception! Queen Victoria’s mother, before her marriage into the British Royal Family, was married to Charles, Prince of Leiningen (she was his second wife, the first being her aunt!). They had two children and lived at the family seat, Amorbach Abbey. After her husband died in 1814 Princess Victoria of Leiningen remained in the Principality as Regent, still ruling from Amorbach. In 1818, and in response to a succession crisis in the British Royal Family (that’s another story!) the then Duke of Kent proposed to her, and she accepted. They married at Amorbach and continued for a brief time to live there, returning swiftly to England in April 1819 in order to ensure their first child, Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent (the future Queen Victoria), could be born on British soil. The rest, as they say, is history….!

Our Regency cosumes worked particularly well in the period setting of Amorbach and it was a privilege to perform in a venue with such a pivotal link to our Royal Family.

At London Festival Opera we are passionate about bringing opera to as wide an audience as possible, and especially about the importance of exposing children to music of a high calibre from an early age.  Some years ago, therefore, we created a series of programmes entitled ‘Opera Magic’ to introduce opera to school-age children and young people which were premiered at the Windsor Theatre Royal as part of the Windsor Festival.  ‘Opera Magic’ has introduced many hundreds of children to the magic of live opera since then and we remain as passionate as ever about the importance of doing so.

We covered in our earlier blog, ‘The Importance of Being Musical!’, how important we believe it is to include music in children’s education; it is not only known to increase brain capacity, but it also teaches children many vital lessons for life – not least that practice and perseverance result in improvement and, eventually, the joy of achieving a goal.  In this digital age where results are expected to be immediate this can only enhance and enrich children’s learning at this formative stage.  Moreover, including music of all styles in an enrichment programme is tantamount to making a lifetime investment in connecting children to an emotional outlet, which could prove to be life changing as they develop.

Opera is arguably the greatest of all art-forms combining great music, drama, fantastical plots, wonderful costumes and scenery, a live theatre experience, plus the thrill of hearing the human voice in its most refined form.  It provides a sensory feast for children and young people who, no matter what most stimulates their individual interest, will undoubtedly find something in the performance which thrills and ignites them.  A first visit to the opera can be intimidating and it’s crucial that the experience is a positive one – if it is, they will be hooked for life!

‘Opera Magic’ presents real, full-blooded opera, but with lashings of humour and audience interaction.  The pupils will be prepared in advance as their teachers will be supplied with information packs so that before they attend the performance, they already know elements such as the voice categories and the etiquette of shouting “Bravo!” if they particularly like a piece.  They will also be prepared to take part in the ‘grand finale’ where the opera singers on stage, the pupils and teachers in the audience will all join forces in singing a rousing celebrated opera chorus together.

The singers will interact with their audience, going amongst them and making them feel part of a shared experience.  Some pupils will be invited on stage to take part in the performance, featuring some of the world’s greatest music including the works of Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Bizet, Puccini and Gilbert and Sullivan. 

Our production has a technically straightforward set and rehearsal takes place on the same day as the performance.  Depending on the size of theatre or auditorium, accompaniment would range from a pre-recorded backing track, solo piano or a select chamber ensemble.

If you would like to talk about us bringing ‘Opera Magic’ to your school please contact: Philip Blake-Jones (Artistic Director) philip@londonfestivalopera.co.uk   07802 183847

londonfestivalopera.co.uk

A child learning music

Nearly everyone enjoys music, whether listening to it, singing or playing an instrument.  It is a universal language which most people can understand and appreciate. Despite this wide interest, however, many schools are having to cut down on their music education programmes in order to make more time in the curriculum for (so-called) ‘core’ subjects.  Whilst we have enormous sympathy for the ever-increasing pressures on teachers and education budgets, we believe this is a mistake.  Educational authorities reducing their musical offerings in the weekly timetable are not only withdrawing from children access to an enjoyable subject but also one which can enrich their lives and education far beyond the classroom.  

There are so many benefits of including a high-quality musical educational programme in the school curriculum which have been scientifically proven.  Each of them has cross-over to other academic subjects, and also to life outside of school, giving children confidence, listening skills and resilience – all lessons which can only help them achieve success in an increasingly tough world.

When you start to delve into the research papers on the subject it only increases the sense of woe at a situation where teachers are finding it harder to offer their pupils the time to learn and appreciate music of a high calibre.  Here is a fascinating selection of just some of the scientific findings: 

  1. Musical training helps develop language and reasoning:  An early musical training will develop the areas of the brain related to language and reasoning. The left side of the brain is known to become better developed with music, and songs can help imprint information on young minds.  Learning a musical instrument can improve how the brain understands human language, helping students to learn a second language.  It also helps with pattern recognition, which aids mathematical and scientific skills.
  2. A mastery of memorisation and discipline: Even when performing with sheet music, student musicians are constantly using their memory to perform.  Developing memory skills will serve students well in all other areas of education and beyond.  Learning to play an instrument can also be hard and children must learn a valuable lesson in discipline. They will have to set time aside to practise and rise to the challenge of learning with discipline.
  3. Students learn to improve their work: Learning music promotes craftsmanship, and students learn to want to create good work instead of mediocre work, constantly striving for better.
  4. Increased coordination: Playing a musical instrument can improve a child’s hand-eye coordination, in much the same way as playing sports does.  Children’s fine motor skills, however, can also be significantly improved when playing a musical instrument, with the obvious knock-on benefits to their writing and manual/craft skills.
  5. Teaching responsible risk-taking and dealing with anxiety:  Music encourages students to try something new and to develop confidence as they master singing or playing an instrument. Performing a musical piece in front of an audience can cause fear and anxiety; it requires real courage!  Pushing through their fear to perform helps children to deal with anxiety with a level head to achieve a positive outcome, bringing a sense of achievement and good self-esteem.  Sometimes in order to achieve potential one needs to learn not to be frightened of fear!
  6. Teaching collaboration, self-esteem and goal-setting: When playing instruments in a group or singing in a choir, students are working towards a common goal and they learn how important it is to appreciate everyone’s ‘voice’ and interests.  This joint effort, where each student’s contribution is vital to the end result, creates not only an understanding of the importance of listening to others and appreciating their contributions but also a sense of secure acceptance of their own contribution that is critical to the self-esteem of each individual.  This is where, for many, the understanding of the importance of teamwork starts.

    Learning to play pieces of music on a new instrument can be a challenging but achievable goal.  Students who master even the smallest goal in music will be able to feel proud of their achievement.  Goal setting becomes an important core part of making positive progress in all areas of life.
  7. Better test results: Students who receive a high-quality musical education in schools perform better in standardised tests than students who don’t have an opportunity to engage with music.  In real terms, students who benefit from superior music education in school have been found to score around 22% higher in language and 20% higher in maths testing compared to schools with less access to a high-quality musical programme.
  8. Fine-tuned listening skills: Music involves listening to yourself as well as to others.  It also requires listening to more than one thing at a time – tempo, harmony, dynamics etc.  Children who have received a high-quality musical education are better able to detect meaningful, information-bearing elements in sounds, than those who have not.  Students who practise music have better auditory attention and can pick out predictable patterns from surrounding noise. 
  9. Music can be relaxing and offer an emotional outlet: Students can fight stress by learning to play or to listen to music. Soothing music is especially helpful in helping children relax.  Listening to music evokes feelings in children which they may find hard to express verbally – expressing these through playing a musical instrument or singing provides a vital outlet where words just won’t do.
  10. Preparation for the creative economy: An artistic education develops the whole brain and develops a child’s imagination and curiosity.  The world is ever-changing, and with mechanisation and technology taking over more and more tasks in the workplace, investing in a creative education can better prepare students for the 21st century workforce.  The new economy has created more artistic careers, and these jobs may grow faster than others in the future.  An artistic or creative education helps with problem solving skills in terms of learning to think outside the box and appreciating that there may be more than one right answer.

The aim of education is to prepare children and young people for independent life outside of school and the home.  Which of the above skills doesn’t provide a vital contribution to this process?!

See our next blog post to read about how London Festival Opera has taken steps to help schools to bring high calibre music to their students from an early age….

Wardrobe mistress attends to Dorabella's hair in our magnificent dressing room at The Goldsmiths' Hall

With over thirty years of performing under our belts and dozens, if not hundreds, of private and corporate engagements during that time it struck me recently, as I travelled round London, in just how many fantastic venues we have been lucky enough to perform.  Our capital city has so very many beautiful and historic locations which lend themselves perfectly as venues for dinners, soirées, corporate events and receptions – and there can be almost no better complement for such an evening than live opera!  It is very exciting to sing in a venue which was not necessarily built for performance – and with imagination and the power of live opera the thrilling possibilities are endless!

Some wonderful memories came flooding back as I travelled and the thought of setting out a ‘London Festival Opera City Bus Tour’ came to me – a pure indulgence of course, but one that fills me with pride!

We alight the ‘bus’ in Central London at St James’s Palace, where we performed on several occasions for the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme in the presence of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and TRH The Earl and Countess of Wessex.  Carrying on up St James’s Street passing by The Ritz Hotel (memories of a civil partnership dinner with Lucien Freud as one of the guests), and continuing down Piccadilly past the Royal Academy of Art (a surprise opera gala for a major charity – ‘singing waiters’ taking guests quite off their guard!) and Le Méridien Hotel (a series of in-house operas in their beautiful Oak Room).  Passing the bustle of Piccadilly Circus we head down The Haymarket, reaching the Institute of Directors, where we presented a charity gala in one of the magnificent state rooms.  Immediately opposite the IOD is the stunning Athenaeum Club (astonishing swimming pool!) where we performed at a wedding anniversary dinner with a programme including favourite arias of the hosts.  On to The Reform Club, and I am reminded of our artists arriving for rehearsals only to be a little flummoxed by the strict dress code of ‘no jeans and jackets and ties for gentlemen’!

We continue our journey down to Trafalgar Square flanked by the National Gallery (corporate dinners for a major bank amongst some of the world’s most stunning masterpieces!), South Africa House (a charity gala in their beautifully formed intimate theatre), and down Whitehall to the Banqueting House (built by King Charles I, at the time not realising this would be the site of his own execution!).  The bus continues on to 10 Downing Street, where we presented a charity performance in the Drawing Room for a distinguished audience.

By now I am feeling a little overwhelmed as I realise how fortunate we have been to have been asked to perform in these stunning historic settings.  As performers, of course, we very often see ‘the back stairs’ side of a venue as well as the grandeur of state rooms – the behind the scenes experiences and insights are surely the basis for a book one day!

We have now arrived at The House of Commons and I remember with great affection a private performance for the personal guests of former The Speaker, Baroness Betty Boothroyd, in the Speaker’s House. 

Leaving Westminster we travel down the Embankment, looking back at a host of incredible buildings along the river – the Tate Gallery (‘a Family Opera’ in the lofty lobby), Lambeth Palace over the bridge (several charity occasions including one in the presence of HRH Princess Margaret), The Liberal Club at One Whitehall Place (corporate events in the beautiful Library), Middle Temple Hall (a thrill to perform in this ancient setting where Queen Elizabeth I attended performances of Shakespeare’s plays), the Inner Temple and Grays Inn Hall (corporate and charity events).  Finally there is the JP Morgan Building where we have performed at in-house corporate occasions.

Passing Blackfriars Bridge I reflect on the many performances in Livery Companies, most notably the Drapers’ Hall (including an Edwardian Gala in the presence of HRH Princess Alexandra), Goldsmiths’ Hall (for their many wonderful in-house opera evenings) and Fishmongers’ Hall (several high-profile charity galas), to name but a few. 

Our journey begins to draw to a close in the very heart of the City of London passing the Mansion House, where we had the honour to perform at charity dinners for several Lord Mayors.  The Bus finally arrives at its destination – the magnificent Guildhall, where I remember with fondness a large-scale charity gala with soloists, ensemble and chorus.  This is the very centre of our magnificent city and a wonderful place to end this journey of happy memories. 

If you are planning an event and would like to find out how a live opera performance can enhance a dinner or reception please call me, Philip Blake-Jones, on 07802 183847.  I can help you to plan a truly special event, and also provide plenty of inspiration if you haven’t yet decided on a venue….! 

Live Opera for a Birthday Party

Live opera is the perfect entertainment for a Birthday Party, particularly if the guest of honour is an opera fan!  Hearing live opera up close is stunning, it provides party guests with a thrill they will remember for ever, and the entertainment can end with a rousing operatic ‘Happy Birthday’.

We will work with you to create the perfect programme for the occasion, whether you would like the performance to be in one section at the beginning or end of dinner or performed in two or three sections between the courses of the meal.  We have performed music for a birthday party during a lunch or dinner.

A ‘Surprise Start’ is always a wonderful way of kicking off the entertainment, with singers disguised as waiters or serving staff who can burst into operatic song to the amazement of the guests.  We have even shocked a birthday guest of honour himself when his family were arranging a surprise party for him – not an evening he will forget in a hurry!

Most of our performances are in the UK but we regularly travel to Europe and often perform further afield – we have presented opera for a birthday party in Marrakech, Barbados and Hong Kong.

Depending on the venue, period costume might add an extra visual impact to enhance the performance, and accompaniment is ideally a piano or backing tracks as an alternative.

The repertoire can include celebrated arias and ensembles from the operatic repertoire (such as ‘The Marriage of Figaro’, ‘La Traviata’, ‘Carmen’ and ‘Tosca’, pieces from the operettas of Offenbach and Gilbert & Sullivan, and hits from the popular musicals of Gershwin, Rogers and Hammerstein, Bernstein and Sondheim.  There is so much wonderful repertoire to choose from to celebrate at your birthday party!

Please call us on +44 (0) 207 223 5456 or the mobile 07802 183847 to discuss music for your forthcoming birthday party – one that will remain in the memories of you and your guests for a very long time!

There are many wonderful music and arts festivals around the world, with more springing up all the time.  As our name suggests, you may not be surprised to hear that it is those that feature classical music which hold a special place in our hearts! 

London Festival Opera has been lucky enough to have performed at many wonderful festivals in some stunning locations around the world, in the UK, the Windsor Festival, Salisbury Festival, Church Stretton Festival to name but a few.  Overseas we have appeared at HIFA (Harare International Festival of the Arts), The Holders Season in Barbados and The British Day in Hamburg, amongst others.  No matter where the location, the atmosphere has always been electric!

The beauty of festivals is they have often arisen out of the passions of one or two people who have then worked tirelessly to see their vision become reality.  They can therefore offer an eclectic selection of niche cultural riches, whether following a specific genre of the arts or perhaps the heritage of the festival’s location itself.  Bringing opera to a music and arts festival not only allows existing lovers of the art to indulge further in their passion, but it also brings opera to a potentially wide and diverse audience, some of whom might not previously have experienced (or imagined they might enjoy) the thrill and joy of a live opera performance.

Music is a language which crosses the boundaries of history and international borders, and no matter where the roots of our own personal heritage lies it is a language we all speak, to a certain extent.   Whether it is the rhythms of tribal music or the heart-stretching climax of an operatic aria which sets our hearts racing, we all have within us the capacity to be moved by music, transported (if only for a while) to another place.  No matter where our passions lie there is a festival out there for us, one which will offer us a musical experience like no other.

A particular thrill for us as an opera company, has always been the audience’s reaction to our performances at festivals.  In the intimate setting of the Baroque Hall of Trafalgar Park our audience was only feet away, giving lots of scope for interaction and involvement.  Seeing the smiles and tears was just wonderful!  At the other end of the scale was the response of the audience at HIFA in Harare; this attracted a crowd of over 5,000 for our Opera Gala Evening and to hear each of these people screaming for an encore is a memory which will never leave us!  Equally, seeing a largely German audience waving mini Union Flags and enthusiastically singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ with us as we performed at the al fresco ‘Last Night of the Proms’ in Hamburg was a slightly bizarre but incredibly moving experience.

Live opera, up close, is stunning; it bristles with drama and passion and bubbles with humour and fun.  Whatever the country or scale of location it is always a pleasure to share the power of opera and to perform the masterpieces of the greatest composers – with Handel, Mozart, Verdi, Bizet and Puccini you can never go wrong!

Charity Fundraising Event

Fundraising in times of financial hardship and political uncertainty is tough, no matter how worthy the cause.  Charities now, even more than ever, need to find new, innovative ways to catch the attention of potential donors and to bring them into a ‘feel-good’ setting, where spirits can be raised as well as funds!

Traditionally, large-scale charitable fundraising has often been aimed at a luxury market; drawing perhaps from a relatively small group of donors, albeit one with all the right resources!  Increasingly, however, charities are looking to broaden their base of regular donors to include a new and larger demographic.  What better way could there be to attract a new crowd into the concept of generous and regular giving than by treating them to a spectacular event which offers a touch of luxury, something with a real ‘Wow!’ factor?

Opera can often be perceived to be a serious and heavy art form, one with which you need to be familiar in order to enjoy it.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  A gala dinner (for instance) with entertainment by London Festival Opera includes many of the best-known arias so will appeal equally to newcomers and seasoned opera lovers alike.  It will provide a sophisticated but lively and fun evening, full of drama, passion, humour and interaction with guests.  Who could fail to feel flattered to receive the attentions of Carmen as she serenades a male guest with a red rose during her infamous Habanera aria?  Or indeed, have their adrenalin levels raised by The Barber of Seville approaching them with a large and shiny blade?!  All this combined with the thrill of hearing at close range the human voice in its most refined form is an unbeatable combination.

London Festival Opera have been involved with charity fundraising events for many years, having been the vehicle for raising many hundreds of thousands of pounds for a wide range of charities, including the British Red Cross, Animal Health Trust, The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, Tusk, Cancer Research, Mencap, Barnardo’s and Tommy’s Campaign.  Venues have ranged from London Livery Halls to private country houses, including theatres, concert halls, schools and Royal Palaces along the way.  We have many years of experience creating bespoke programmes for charity events, so please do feel free to contact us if you are considering organising a special event and would appreciate advice on how best to entertain your guests for maximum effect.  As well as advice on the type of programme which would be most suitable for your cause we can also advise on sponsorship ideas which have worked and helped charities raise funds in the past.

If guests leave a fundraising event without having had their emotions heightened, their passions aroused, or their laughter muscles exercised they are more likely to leave with money still in their pockets.  If you move them with excitement, passion, laughter and tragedy all in the space of an hour, having set those emotions to some of the greatest and most rousing music ever written, you’re on to a winner.

Please contact:  Philip Blake-Jones on +44 (0) 207 223 5456 or 07802 182847

philip@londonfestivalopera.co.uk

www.londonfestivalopera.co.uk

Nothing beats the thrill of hearing an opera singer up close and the power of the human voice will astound your guests.  There is so much repertoire to choose from; passionate arias, romantic love duets, and powerful ensembles.  Combine this with humour and audience interaction and you are on to a winner!  Opera is perfect too for multi-national events and conferences.

Opera is a sophisticated art-form but is essentially an entertainment and can transform an event into something truly memorable for you and your guests.  We create programmes that are ideal for existing opera lovers but which will also appeal to newcomers alike.

We will work with you to create the perfect programme and include something for everyone: from the celebrated operas (such as ‘The Marriage of Figaro’, ‘Carmen’, ‘La Traviata’ and ‘Madame Butterfly’), operettas (including the works of Gilbert & Sullivan), and musicals (with hits from the works of Gershwin, Rogers & Hammerstein, Bernstein and Lloyd-Webber).

Accompaniment can range from an orchestra, instrumental ensemble or backing tracks if a piano is not available.  The singers can appear in glamorous modern evening dress or in stunning period costume for an added visual impact (Georgian, Regency, Victorian or Edwardian).

Our performances are usually introduced with a few carefully selected words that will bring the arias and ensembles to life for an audience.

London Festival Opera has arranged performances to link with all ranges of events – from a private dinner party for 20 to a large-scale al fresco event for thousands.  We perform not only in the UK and Europe but often travel internationally to Hong Kong, India, Barbados and Canada.

We have presented successful opera performances for many leading companies including Goldman Sachs, Brocket Hall, The Goring Hotel, Price Waterhouse, Hermes, Arthur Andersen, Deutsche Bank, AXA, PC World, Bank of New York and BMI Healthcare.

Please do call us to discuss how live opera can transform your next Corporate or Special Event into something truly memorable – an occasion you and your guests will remember for ever.  Please call 00 44 (0) 1722 324847.

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Brexit the Opera logo

London Festival Opera is working on ‘Brexit The Opera’. What more dramatic inspiration could one ask for in a 21st Century operatic plot? And it’s not over yet…..!

A tale of Love, Treachery, Drama, Passion and Political Intrigue set to the music of the great composers, including Handel, Mozart, Verdi and Gilbert & Sullivan. Watch this space for developments and performances! Please contact us if you are interested in developing this unique project!