James Clutton, director of opera at Opera Holland Park, explains why investing in young talent benefits everyone
Many opera houses have programmes for emerging talent but few culminate in a main-stage performance with chorus and orchestra to a paying audience. But at Investec Opera Holland Park (OHP), in keeping with our company’s democratic and unstuffy ethos, we wanted to give young artists the chance to appear in our main season, following a rehearsal and artistic process like on any other OHP production. We also decided that the production should involve not just singers but also conductors, directors and repetiteurs – some of the many individuals who make up the complex tapestry of an opera production.
The result is our Young Artists scheme, which we launched in 2012. Since OHP began in 1996, we have championed young, home-grown talent, and launching the Young Artists scheme was a way of formalising this process and providing even more training and performing experience to artists at the outset of their careers.
Young Artists rehearsals run alongside the main cast rehearsals, allowing participants to share in the experience of preparing for a professional show. They are mentored and developed by the full production team including directors, conductors, repetiteurs and the head of music, and benefit from a dedicated language coach. For many, it is their first full working experience with a professional opera company.
This year the Young Artists will give a performance of Don Giovanni on 22 June. Tickets are sold at a reduced price, but the performance is otherwise billed and promoted as for any other main-stage show. Indeed, the role of Don Giovanni will be sung by Ashley Riches, the main cast principal.
The scheme provides networking opportunities with a wide range of industry professionals, who are invited to the performance and a reception afterwards. These introductions frequently open doors for the individuals involved, helping them to secure management or future engagements.
Aside from giving us a warm fuzzy feeling and the artists a head start, this programme also makes good business sense for OHP – seeing young artists working at such close quarters enables me to judge how they have dealt with the pressures and who is ready to move up within the company. For example, in our 2017 season we have 10 principal singers, two conductors and a director who are Young Artists alumni.
Affording artists a chance at the outset of their careers also fosters a sense of loyalty and means that OHP will always hold a special place in their hearts. Hopefully they’ll continue to come back here to re-join their OHP family throughout the various stages of their careers. Overseeing an artist’s development right at the start of his or her career is a huge responsibility and a great privilege – we’re able to mould artists in the OHP way before they pick up other habits elsewhere.
Further, the sense of camaraderie on the Young Artists programme is always inspiring, and the participants pass on their energy and enthusiasm to the professional company. During main cast rehearsals, it’s a joy to see the young artists soaking up more experienced artists’ wisdom, while the senior artists always appreciate the fresh perspective brought by the young performers.
The Young Artists scheme has also been a box office hit. Last year’s performance of La bohème sold out, and our audiences love the opportunity to witness and support new talent.
Although the project is working well, we are continually monitoring developments in the industry and listening to the needs of artists. For example, this year for the first time we’re introducing one-on-one coaching and mentoring for singers from established opera singers, in addition to the production team mentoring and rehearsals.
Of course no training scheme is possible without sustained resources and so we must thank the late Christine Collins, who so generously sponsored our Young Artists scheme for its first five years. Her legacy was acknowledged with a special posthumous award for philanthropy at last year’s International Opera Awards. Since Christine passed away the Young Artists scheme has been funded by further generous donors, trusts and foundations. Since we do not receive government funding OHP relies on individuals like these, as well as our corporate sponsor Investec Wealth & Investment, to dig deep and support the next generation of operatic talent.
James Clutton is director of opera at Opera Holland Park. This year’s Young Artists performance is Don Giovanni on 22 June. For details of Opera Holland Park’s complete summer season, which runs from 1 June – 29 July, visit the company website.