‘Not just highbrow and pretentious’: Manchester’s bright young opera stars break trend with new show

A new opera company comprising of Manchester’s brightest young opera singers is taking their unique brand of affordable opera on the road this February.

Manchester Opera Ensemble is hoping to shake the tired notion that opera is the overpriced pastime of elderly toffs, featuring interminably dull songs in indecipherable languages.

The young musical director, James Hendry, is still studying at the RNCM and is hoping that this tour will invite a new audience to enjoy opera for the first time.

Mr Hendry said: “The audience we’ve pulled in so far is generally other fellow singers and musicians and supporting us but what I’d like to see is us getting our own unique audience base – people who just like watching the tele – it’s just the same!

“Our first piece was at the Kings Arms in Salford, which is quite a cool venue; it has its own audience, so we had a few new people that wouldn’t normally come to the opera.”

James told MM that he thinks there is a stigma attached to opera that leads people to think it’s elitist.

“You can get tickets at the Royal Opera House for a tenner and yet it costs £50 to go and see a football game – so it’s not elitist, especially not at the prices we charge.

To encourage new audiences to their performances, the company’s directors have decided to show two operettas, each under an hour long.

“The Telephone is a comic opera so I’m hoping that the comedy will draw people in,” said Chloe Saywell, who plays the female lead in The Telephone.

“It’s also quite short and sweet and very compact, the two operas work well alongside each other,” she added.

Her co-star, David Cane added: “We’ve got to show people that opera is an enjoyable art form, not just something that is highbrow and pretentious.

“Operas like these, with really accessible stories will hopefully speak to people who have been to hundreds of operas before but also people who have never been to one.”

The two pieces being performed by the ensemble are The Telephone by Menotti and The Husband at the Door by Offenbach, neither of which is hugely well known.

“We’re young people, so we can’t be putting on things like La Boheme and Madame Butterfly and La Traviata because the singers aren’t ready to do it, their voices are ready,” he said.

“So we’re limited by the repertoire we can choose to do and therefore because the shows don’t have a big name, people automatically think ‘oh, I don’t want to go and see that.’”

The ensemble intend to counteract this attitude by doing away with the language barrier, which gives opera an accessibility problem for some companies, by performing English works.

Manchester Opera Ensemble was founded with the intention to give young singers in the North West a platform on which to perform, outside of the RNCM.

“What we’re trying to do is create a basis of really good chamber opera, and find things that look good on a singer’s CV,” said James.

“We’re just trying to get really good venues, good pieces to give singers and to keep a tight budget so we can all profit share to make it worth the performers while – we’ve all got to pay the bills!

James praised the RNCM’s efforts for its students but said that the ensemble could offer extra chances to perform.

“We’re trying to offer a service to young singers; we want to give people opportunities to play roles, get experience and not miss out.

The group are working hard, with a limited budget and everyone is expected to contribute.

“It’s good to work on a budget too –it’s training for the singers to work in tougher conditions, cart the set with you, promote it yourselves, get changed in the loos, the onus is on them to sell tickets.

“Working with us is professional but it’s down to earth. We’re a team and everybody has got to pull their weight and it also makes you appreciate how hard the people backstage work for you normally.

“We’re not churning out divas, which can so easily happen if it all comes too easily.

Eventually the group would like to go into local schools to try to incorporate some outreach into their work.

David hoped that Manchester audiences will turn out to support the ensemble’s work: “I think people might assume it’s not for them,” he said.

“In my experience, people who go and see opera for the first time are always pleasantly surprised and all it takes is for someone to give it a go.”

To book tickets and see the tour schedule click here

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