Published: 24 September, 2010
by TERRY MESSENGER
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.