Former West End Producer James Clutton Speaks to Theatrefullstop about this year’s Opera Holland Park Festival!

imageIt’s summertime, and with it, brings an abundance of festivals, whether that be music, food or theatre. However, if you fancy a theatre festival with a difference, then Opera Holland Park is the place to be. If you’re an avid Opera lover, or theatre goer willing to step out of your comfort zone, then try this operatic festival renowned for championing lesser known works. Ahead of the festival, Theatrefullstop were lucky enough to speak producer, James Clutton, about encouraging younger audiences to attend Opera shows, differences and similarities between producing West End Shows and a large scale Opera festival, and making Opera shows more accessible to wider audiences!

Hi James, Opera Holland Park returns for another year from 9th July until 8th August, how are you feeling ahead of the event?

I am always excited about the upcoming season. By the time we start rehearsals I have probably been working on those productions for 12-18 months, so it is great to get fully started on them all and start seeing them on stage.

Opera Holland Park is renowned for staging works that are not as well known, how, as producer do you decide which shows make the final line up?

Michael Volpe (general manager at Opera Holland Park) and I choose the repertoire each year. We look at balancing the the season in many ways. Balancing the composers, different styles of music, very popular repertory “potboilers” alongside some lesser known works. In particular we have become well known for producing late 19th century Italian opera, but more recently, we have produced works by Britten, Janacek and this season Jonathan Dove.

Opera Holland Park also encourages younger audiences to attend a night of theatre, by releasing over a 1000 free tickets for young people aged between 9 and 18. How important are these types of initiatives?

Initiatives of this kind are of paramount importance. It is vital to encourage awareness and excitement with a younger audience – the next generation of audiences and artists.

Opera is a theatre form that may perhaps project ideas of being only for the elite and a form not at all relatable to the 21st Century. How does Opera Holland Park challenge this idea?

Sorry, I don’t accept the premise of that at all. We allow this narrative to continue but it just isn’t true. It is possible to see good quality opera at many different venues across the country. As for the theatre form: opera involves great stories, fantastic music and wonderful characters. There is always interest in those things. At Opera Holland Park we make it accessible with accessible prices and hopefully making it a relaxed atmosphere to be in when you come to see an opera.

With institutions such as the English National Opera and the Royal Opera House being synonymous with the art form, how important are operatic theatre festivals in creating accessibility to all age groups and backgrounds?

Well of course, the English National Opera and the Royal Opera House do have a lot of initiatives for younger audiences and with cheaper tickets generally but yes we all have a responsibility to keep the art form open to people from all age groups and backgrounds – in the audiences but also working within the business.

As a former west end producer, how does producing an operatic festival compare to producing a west end show? What are the similarities and differences?

The main difference is really the relentless nature of producing a festival. With a West End show it is an incredible amount of work but more often than not, one would focus on one major production and open that. We will have six opening performances within ten weeks at Opera Holland Park this season. Also with a West End play or musical there would be a few weeks of previews before opening night. Gauging audience reactions, fine tuning aspects of the production etc. With an opera and certainly at a festival you don’t have that time. A normal run of performances would maybe comprise of 7 performances and then the production closes. You wouldn’t even be out of the preview week on a West End show.

Are there any shows in particular you are looking to watch at this year’s festival?

I am looking forward to all of them. But at a push I would say Il Trittico and Flight on the main stage. And Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, our family opera. The first two because they are massive challenges for any producer, any company – so that is very exciting. Alice be aid it was our first ever commission and now in its third year, it still sells out and enchants adults and children alike.

Do you have a favourite opera? If so, which one and why?

A very, very hard question. Possibly Tosca. I think it is a perfect opera and we had such a massive triumph with it when we produced it in an updated production in 2008 that I have a special place for it.

How would a performer thinking of perusing a career in opera go about seeking opportunities and training?

On the singing side, join a choir, a local musical group or anything to get involved in working with other people with like-minded interests. Try to find a singing teacher who could help with the basics right at the beginning. Singers have to go through so much training and the learning never stops even when you are a working professionally.

What advice would you give to aspiring festival producers?

The same as to any producer. See as much work as you can. Not only from one aspect of performance either, see as much as you can. Even if you don’t like certain productions you can take things away from it. It helps give you more confidence in knowing what you didn’t like about it and helps not make that mistake when you are producing.

When writing to potential employers, always make sure you know who exactly to write to. Letters or e-mails that are generic and addressed to whom it may concern never work for me. Find out who you are writing to and also something about their festival/productions/company. Know exactly why you are writing to them and that should come across in the writing – it also gives the recipient more reason to read it.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

Opera Holland Park will be enchanting audiences from Thursday 9th July until Saturday 8th August. For more information on the operatic festival, visit here…

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