London Opera Events

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 www.frankmatchamsociety.org.uk

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. 

We were honoured to perform for a very distinguished audience in the magnificent setting of Kirtlington Park, Oxfordshire on Saturday evening.  London Festival Opera presented ‘A Christmas Night at the Opera’ in the 18th Century Saloon of the house for a sell-out performance.  The audience joined in a Gilbert and Sullivan chorus which prepared them perfectly to sing an absolutely rousing rendition of ‘Good King Wenceslas’, proving joyfully that people do love to sing!

The evening was in aid of the wonderful charity, Medical Detection Dogs, which trains dogs to detect the odour of human disease.  The charity is at the forefront of the research into the fight against cancer and helping people with life-threatening diseases.  In addition to this extraordinary work the charity also trains Medical Alert Assistance Dogs to live with individuals who have complex health conditions.  Using their amazing sense of smell, the dogs are trained to identify the minute odour changes emitted prior to a medical emergency and then alert the person to take preventative action.  This can help to prevent 999 calls and hospital admissions, giving these people and their families greater confidence and independence. 

Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall is Patron of the Charity and gave her blessing to the fundraising evening in a letter printed in the programme.  Her Royal Highness wrote: ‘As the proud Patron I would like to send you all my very best wishes for a wonderful evening of opera. …. By translating their research into reality, this charity could save many thousands of lives.’

It was an honour to be invited to help raise funds for such a worthy cause in the breath-taking setting of Kirtlington Park. 

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

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….! 

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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