Martin Graham, founder of Longborough Festival Opera, is stepping down from the Board which he has chaired for more than 20 years. Martin, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday, first started promoting opera along with his wife Lizzie from the grounds of their home in 1991 as Banks Fee Opera.
Longborough Festival Opera – which is based at Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire – has since grown into an established opera company, situated in the heart of the Cotswolds. The now annual season takes place in a purpose-built opera house seating 500.
Martin will retain his close interest in the season’s performances, and the festival will remain a family affair, with Lizzie set to become interim chair of the Board. Their daughter Polly Graham, an acclaimed opera director, will continue as Longborough’s artistic director, a role to which she was appointed in 2018.
Martin and Lizzie achieved what many said was impossible. Fuelled by passion, energy and determination, they gradually converted a set of agricultural buildings into a purpose-built theatre which first opened its doors to audiences in 1997. The venue still uses seats salvaged from Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House, which were being discarded during the refurbishment of the late 1990s.
Longborough has become known for its commitment to Wagner. It is even, at times, described as an “English Bayreuth in the heart of the Cotswolds”.
In 2013 the company presented a full-length production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, making it the first privately owned opera house to mount a complete performance of the epic cycle. The full production was performed a total of three times. This was achieved with minimal budgets but to great critical acclaim, establishing the festival as a destination for Wagnerians in the UK and abroad.
Longborough’s 2022 season included a new production of Siegfried (1876), the third instalment in Wagner’s four-opera epic. The full cycle will again be performed at Longborough in 2024.
Longborough’s music director Antony Negus commented: “Martin’s was the inspiration to perform the Ring Cycle at Longborough in his newly built theatre, and since my first meeting with him in 2000 I owe him deep gratitude for being my friend and ‘comrade in arms’ through all our exciting Wagnerian developments at Longborough. As we move into new times with Polly at the helm, Martin and Lizzie will always be at the heart of our artistic endeavours.”
Today Longborough Festival Opera boasts an ever-expanding supporter base and is respected for its commitment to exceptional performance quality, compelling repertoire and creativity of interpretation. It is now a modern arts organisation run by a team of professionals drawn from across the arts world, with a mission to support opera as a compelling artform, develop artistic talent of the future and widen the access to music in surrounding communities.
“Longborough Festival Opera is indebted to Martin for his inspirational leadership, expertise, passion and enthusiasm,” the organisation said in a statement.
Artistic director Polly Graham added: “Without my father’s exceptional energy and drive, this festival would not exist. We continue to be inspired by his tenacity and daring, and intend to keep taking exciting artistic risks as we plan for the future, sharing great opera with as many people as possible.”
Longborough’s current season continues until August. Tickets are still available for all three remaining productions: Korngold’s Die tote Stadt (The Dead City, 1920), Bizet’s Carmen (1875) and a double bill comprising Freya Waley-Cohen’s contemporary dramatic song-cycle Spell Book, receiving its first complete staging at Longborough, and Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina (The Liberation of Ruggiero from the Island of Alcina, 1625).
Longborough Festival Opera founder Martin Graham has stepped down as the long-running chairman of the board.