London Opera Events

It was a great pleasure, as always, to return to the magnificent and historic Goldsmiths’ Hall in the City of London for an ‘in-house’ opera gala for the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths’ and their guests.  The evening began with a surprise burst of opera in the Drawing Room during the drinks reception, and then continued with the main performance during the courses of dinner in The Hall.  The performers wore Victoria evening gowns for an added visual impact.  The Goldsmiths’ Hall has one of the finest grand pianos in London: our pianist, Jenny, loves it so much she declared she would be prepared to lodge underneath it permanently! 

The Goldsmiths’ Company has been located on the site since 1339.The present Hall, by Philip Hardwick, was built in the 1830’s and remains much as he designed it.  The Hall and other state rooms have been used for a host of films including most recently for Buckingham Palace in ‘The Crown’. 

London Festival Opera has a wealth of experience in creating the perfect selection of opera for a special event – including weddings. We recently returned from a magnificent wedding in Switzerland at the Palace Hotel (pictured). We work closely with the Bride and Groom and discuss the wide range of repertoire available, keeping an open mind. One Bride in London wanted something very different: she entered with the rock classic ‘Highway to Hell’ with a superb electric guitarist! After other arias (including from ‘La Traviata’ and ‘The Barber of Seville’) the grand final piece was an operatic version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ with singers and guitarist. In Gstaad, after the surprise waiter start, the cutting of the cake was accompanied by a rousing, opera version of ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’!! There is so much repertoire to choose from and live music can add something really memorable to a special day…

One of the exciting part of performing opera is the opportunity to travel.  Performances overseas have taken us across Europe and as far afield as Hong Kong, Mumbai, as well as Canada and Barbados.  We travel extensively in Europe often presenting a ‘surprise opera’ entertainment where waiters or fellow party guests burst into song to the amazement of the real guests.  We are currently planning to return to Italy working with the client to create the perfect programme for the celebratory dinner – including special requests.  On this occasion that includes the Drinking Song from Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’ and ending the evening with an operatic version of a pop song (the final decision will be between ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’!)

The Actress Lesley Manville created a really special Desert Island Discs including opera. She revealed that as a girl classical singing was an important part of her life and that she could have perhaps chosen an operatic career. Had she done so, we would have been deprived of one of the country’s most accomplished performers. She played W S Gilbert’s life very touchingly in Mike Leigh film ‘Topsy Turvey’. Her Desert Island Discs is well worth listening to and still available on the BBC BBC Radio 4 – Desert Island Discs, Lesley Manville, actor

It has been a very challenging 18th months for performers or all kinds – some normality seems to be returning to our profession as we proceed with caution and start planning performances. Philip Blake-Jones (Baritone and Artistic Director of London Festival Opera) had the opportunity to sing last week at a charity event in an delightful garden in the Cathedral Close of Salisbury.

The surprise ‘burst of opera’ included Papageno’s Aria from Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’. The sunny day, trees and colourful flower beds provided the perfect enchanting setting!

Here’s to the future and the return of live performances of all kinds!

Anvil Chorus

Covid 19 has had a profound impact on the arts generally, particularly live music.  Some normality is returning but we seem far away from complete freedom from restrictions.  It is possible that things will not be as they were for a considerable time and that the online concepts, such as Zoom Opera Galas and Online Choirs, will remain a vital option for music making of all kinds. 

The Self Isolation Choir is a pioneering company – they presented their first mass ‘Messiah’ with a chorus of nearly 4,000 singers and instrumentalists from 35 different countries last year – and now continues to develop and offer choral experiences in many new areas.  The SIC now moves into the world of grand opera with their and London Festival Opera is thrilled to be involved in this new project of five celebrated choruses from the operas of Verdi, Bizet and Puccini.  Philip Blake-Jones has worked with four of his most talented soloists creating the rehearsal tracks to teach and inspire the international choristers, as well as the piano track which is the fundamental foundation of the whole musical creation. The rehearsal and concert will be under the baton of the very talented Ben England, who received the BEM in HM The Queen’s Honours marking his leadership in this new virtual creative world.  Additionally, the course will include the expert contribution of Donald Palumbo the Chorus Master from New York’s Metropolitan Opera New.  The Self Isolation Choir has once again assembled and impressive creative team!

Philip teaching online

Singing for physical and mental health

The pandemic has savaged the arts and I am very concerned for the future, but there is some consolation in the opportunity to teach again.  To be able to pass on what I have learned from some of the country’s best teachers.  That this might help with health and morale is a precious added bonus.

In the programme Breathe English National Opera has concluded that singing could play a key part in helping to improve breathing and general wellbeing. 

A singing teacher’s job is to spot and remove bad habits.  My Professor at the Royal Academy of Music stressed that improving singing is about ‘taking away the mess’.  If singing looks easy and natural it usually sounds it.  Whether a total beginner, someone who sings in a choir, or you have ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ aspirations, you can improve. 

Nothing compares to being in a room together, but the subtleties of good singing can be taught online.  The wide range of people I am teaching are improving and most importantly enjoying the lessons

Lessons online make it possible for us to connect from wherever we are in the world from the comfort of our own homes.  I’m working individually and in groups with singers online here in Wiltshire and also currently in Yorkshire, Scotland, Germany, Barbados and the USA.


Puccini met Elvira Gemignani in 1884 whilst giving her piano lessons.  She was to become his lover though she was already married.  Soon it became clear that she was expecting a child and not her husbands.  This is was a shocking situation in 19th century Roman Catholic Italy. 

Undoubtedly Elvira and Puccini were happy in the early days before her possessiveness and jealousy dominated their lifelong relationship, and ultimately marriage.  

Elvira had a jealous disposition and attempted to control Puccini.  He was not only creative as a composer.  For instance, he is known to have paid pupils to play the piano in his study giving the impressions that he was there composing.  Meanwhile he slipped out of the windows and Elvira slept soundly thinking he was hard at work at home.

In September 1908 Elvira’s jealousy led to a real-life tragedy as dramatic as an operatic plot.  She became suspicions of one of their servants, the twenty-three year old Doria Manfredi, and was convinced that the girl was sleeping with her husband.  Not only did she dismiss her, but hounded Doria and spread rumours.  The situation became so intolerable to the poor girl that she drank poison and suffered a lingering and painful death.  Puccini, very fond of the Doria, was devastated.  Knowing she was innocent her family sued for defamation and Elvira narrowly avoided imprisonment.  She was in fact sentenced to five months but Puccini stepped in and he and his lawyers persuaded the family to drop the lawsuit and paid them off. 

Elvira was right to have her suspicions: Puccini was having an affair with another woman at that time, but not Doria!

Puccini died in 1924 and Elvira followed him in 1930

Frank Matcham Theatre Designer

Frank Matcham (1854 – 1920) must be the most distinguished and prolific late 19th century theatre designer.  The writer Alan Bennett has commented that there was a Matcham theatre (too many of his theatres have sadly been demolished) in every corner of the UK.  Across the country in Brighton, Portsmouth, Morecambe, Leeds, Nottingham and Newport and in London his theatres include the Coliseum, Palladium and Hackney Empire, to name but a few.  London Festival Opera has had the pleasure and thrill to perform in several of Matcham’s most magnificent theatres including the Buxton Opera House and Grand Theatre Blackpool. 

Matcham married the daughter of his tutor, Maria Robinson, and had two daughters Eveline and Constance.  He had a great interest in music and owned a Stradivarius violin though he humbly admitted that he ‘wasn’t particularly good at it’.  He also loved to stage amateur dramatics and the ‘family troupe’ would present theatrical performances for their neighbours and friends in the intimacy of his home – somewhat ironically as he had designed some of the world’s greatest large scale theatres!

There is something very special about performing in a period theatre and we usually perform in period costume.  For a Frank Matcham theatre this would be Victorian or Edwardian evening dress.  For the audience the effect is like going back in time both aurally, in the repertoire of Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini, and visually with our set and costumes. 

It is always a thrill to arrive in a Victorian venue where the back-stage and dressing rooms maybe a little shabby but make up for that by having such atmosphere and there is a sense that many, many starts and celebrities will have appeared in the theatre – from Lilly Langtry to Ken Dodd!  Modern theatres are lovely and comfortable, but there is something very special about arriving, rehearsing, changing and performing in a period theatre – especially when they are designed by the great Frank Matcham.  For more details see the excellent website for the Frank Matcham Society

Edwardian costume at the Goldsmiths' Hall

Even if we are presenting an evening of popular opera for a private party or corporate event we would always recommend the singers appearing in period costume for some of the performance.  This gives a wonderful visual impact and enhances the power of the music, and can work particularly well in a period setting.  London Festival Opera has an impressive collection of costumes from the 18th Century, Regency, Victorian and Edwardian eras.  Many have been designed and made especially for the company but some were purchased at the rare costume sales at the Royal Opera House and English National Opera.

Many of our performances are at close quarters, so not only must the costumes be of the highest standards and design, but the accessories of hair and jewellery must be convincing close up. 

Additionally, we have sets of costumes for specific operas including ‘Madame Butterfly’, ‘La Traviata’, ‘The Magic Flute’ and ‘Carmen’.  Similarly, these must look good close up and look convincing in historic settings.  If we are presenting a performance in venues such as St James’s Palace in London, Blenheim Palace or the British Embassy in Paris the costumes must look fabulous enough for the settings.

In an opera gala evening in a theatre or special event we would often perform part one in period costume and then change into stunning contemporary evening dress as a contrast.