OperaUpClose artistic director and chief executive Robin Norton-Hale has spoken about her decision to leave the company to join English Touring Opera as general director. She takes up her new role in September.
Norton-Hale co-founded OperaUpClose in 2009, along with Ben Cooper and Adam Spreadbury-Maher. The company’s first production was Norton-Hale’s new English-language version of Puccini’s La bohème (The Bohemians, 1896), which was staged at the Cock Tavern Theatre in Kilburn, north-west London.
The company aims to produce affordable and accessible English-language versions of well-known works and world premieres of new operas. It tours to theatres, site-specific venues from castles to warehouses, and schools across the country.
“When OperaUpClose co-founders Ben Cooper, Adam Spreadbury-Maher and I decided to produce La bohème in 2009, we had no idea what we were starting. How could we?” Robin Norton-Hale said.
“We were putting on an opera for four weeks in a 35-seat theatre above the roughest pub in Kilburn. It was an experiment. We hoped people would come and see it, and that the production would mean something to them.”
The production later transferred to Soho Theatre and continues to be revived to this day. It won the 2011 Olivier Award for Best Opera Production and the WhatsOnStage.com Award for Best Off-West End Production.
Under Norton-Hale’s leadership, OperaUpClose has produced 34 operas, including commissions from Laura Bowler, Michael Nyman and Mark Ravenhill and premieres by Katarzyna Brochocka, Spyros Syrmos and Luke Styles.
Her Olivier Award-winning production of La bohème has had more than 200 performances at venues all over the UK and toured internationally to the Ravenna Opera Festival, and in 2019 Robin and composer Joanna Lee’s opera for very young children, Peace At Last, was seen by more than 4,000 children.
Abigail Toland, chair of the OperaUpClose board commented: “We are delighted for Robin on her appointment and wish her every success. Of course, we are also very sad to be seeing her go. In her 12 years with OperaUpClose Robin has grown us into a national touring, Olivier Award-winning opera company and we are all incredibly grateful for everything that Robin has done to make us so successful.
“The search begins straightaway for new talent to take the board’s vision for OperaUpClose forward – continuing to provide imaginative, accessible, affordable opera for all. We are looking forward to our return to touring across the country this autumn with The Flying Dutchman, our biggest and boldest production yet, and have exciting plans for our future work in Southampton from our base at MAST Mayflower Studios, and beyond.”
The company is currently working in partnership with Manchester Camerata and with local community choirs to produce a new English-language version of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman (Der fliegende Holländer, 1843), which will tour to portside locations including Blackpool, Bristol, Hull, London and Southampton this autumn.
Plans for 2023 and beyond include returning to midscale theatre touring and developing another opera for children, in partnership with organisations around the company’s Southampton base, before taking the new work to schools around the country.
Robin Norton-Hale added: “I’m immensely proud to be passing on a company whose productions have meant so much – from a hilarious night out, to an eye-opening new adventure, to an emotional experience – to more people than we ever could have imagined.
“I am so grateful to the artists, funders and audiences for their talent, generosity and support, and who have helped create an amazing body of work. With such a talented and committed chair, board of trustees and staff, I know OperaUpClose will continue to go from strength to strength, and I look forward to seeing what happens next, as it is sure to be bold and brilliant.”
Robin Norton-Hale, OperaUpClose’s artistic director and chief executive, will leave the company in September to take up a new role as general manager at English Touring Opera.