The Independent London Newspaper


Access all arias – opera on stage at King’s Head

Sir Jonathan Miller

Published: 24 September, 2010

THE renowned King’s Head Theatre is to be reborn as Britain’s first pub opera house.

The famous venue in Islington’s Upper Street is being taken over by a company devoted to making opera more enjoyable, understandable and affordable.

Backing the project is opera director Sir Jonathan Miller, who took a swipe at the elitist atmosphere of grand opera houses in the West End and expressed support for the idea of staging shows in smaller, more intimate venues.

He said: “I like it when you can put opera into a setting where it is not all about people luxur­iating in displays of their wealth.”

A key objective is to attract people put off by the opulence and expense of the English National Opera and Royal Opera House.

The company OperaUpClose is taking over the King’s Head from the family of Dan ­Crawford, who founded Britain’s first-ever pub theatre at the venue in 1970.

Ben Cooper, commercial director for the new proprietors, said: “The opera idea is a great way to keep people coming through the doors. It’s a tribute to Dan Crawford to do something which no one else is doing – because that’s what he did.”

The venue is to be re-named “London’s Little Opera House at the King’s Head” and tickets will cost a maximum of £15, compared to the £200 top price of a seat at the Royal Opera House.   

Ben said opera’s popular appeal was demonstrated by well-known adverts and theme tunes such as a famous British Airways commercial, which used a piece from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, and Nessun Dorma, also by Puccini, which became synonymous with the football World Cup.

He stressed that as well as attracting people who don’t usually go to opera, OperaUpClose also hopes to appeal to the traditional audience because “what we are doing is different and original”.

The new era at the King’s Head starts on Wednesday, October 6,  with a production of Rossini’s Barber of Seville (or Salisbury).

It’s the tale of a love triangle involving a young woman, a doctor and a philandering count set in 19th-century Salisbury, instead of Seville.

Sir Jonathan, from Camden Town, has been lined up to direct Alban Berg’s Lulu at the King’s Head next year.

Despite currently re­ceiving acclaim for his production of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte at Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House, he weighed into the opera establishment in a statement announcing the opening of the King’s Head venture.

He said: “Many people are very underprivileged while there are these huge, ornamental opera productions being staged. There is something immoral about it.”

He told the Tribune he “didn’t give a damn” about what the opera establishment might think about his outburst.

Complaining about a lack of royalties received for his work in the West End, he quipped:  “I’m perfectly prepared to bite the hand which starves me.”

• A film about the achievements Dan Crawford, A Maverick in London, will be screened at the venue on the first two weekends of October as part of an event celebrating the cultural heritage of Upper Street.



Opera at The Rosemary Branch Theatre

We applaud Ben Cooper and Adam Spreadbury-Maher for their ambitious project of turning The Kings Head into a little opera house, and should like to take this opportunity to offer a few words of wisdom based on 10 years of presenting about 20 operas at the even smaller Rosemary Branch in Shepperton Road. Pub opera can be a delight, the small space inspires a new focus to the story telling and those big voices can be absolutely thrilling, but to be more than a one hit wonder the standards of the production, direction and musicianship must be of top quality If there is not much money in the budget, make sure everyone concerned knows what the deal is so that no one feels they are exploited. The occasional free drink and plate of food to the cast and crew do not go amiss, neither does verbal appreciation from the management as well as the general public. A well tuned grand piano shows respect.

In case anyone is interested, we are currently looking forward to Minotaur Music Theatre's triple bill of 20th century short operas from Oct 7-10, and Charles Court Opera's specially written panto, Robin Hood, at the Rosemary Branch from Dec.10th- Jan 9th

Cecilia Darker
Rosemary Branch Theatre

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