Music To Your Ears
Did you know the likes of international renowned opera singer Alfie Boe started his singing career at Preston Opera?
Preston Opera company was founded in 1965 and it was really the efforts of a handful of people led by a guy called Frank Salter, who was born and bred in Preston. He had experience in classical music and thought it was a shame that people couldn’t experience opera without having to go to London.
He ran a local choir and he decided to form a company with a view to putting on a full-scale production, which was pretty ambitious back then.
He wanted opera to be accessible to everyone and provided audiences with the opportunity to see and be part of this most powerful of art forms. Today, Preston Opera has been sharing its passion for the moving sounds and sights of opera and operetta to the people of Lancashire for more than 50 years.
Preston Opera is an amateur opera company based in Preston, staging high quality performances of opera and operettas accompanied by the Preston Opera Orchestra.
The company currently has around 60 active members, ranging from teenagers to those who would rather not say! The company rehearses every Thursday evening at Carey Baptist Centre, Pole Street, Preston city centre and new members are always welcome. Membership of this very friendly group of singers has grown extensively since those early days and the company is always keen to encourage young talented singers as well as members who are happy to help with costumes, front-of-house, backstage or in a non-singing role. There’s something for everyone!
Up until 2003 there were two full-scale productions a year, however the company now just focuses on one, along with a number of concerts throughout the year.
Diane Mackley is the director and secretary of Preston Opera. She says: “It was quite dramatic last year because the Charter Theatre, in Preston, where we were based, went into administration, just before we were due to perform Macbeth there. Fortunately, we were able to find another venue quickly which was Fulwood Academy, however a lot of adjustments to the staging had to be made.
“Once everyone had got over the shock, the show went ahead. We weren’t going to let something like that ruin our show.”
“The key thing with Preston Opera is that we have our own orchestra which a lot of other societies don’t have,” she says. “One thing we’ve done a lot of in the past is to form links with colleges such as the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, where we can offer their post grad students opportunities to add to their CV.”
In fact, a number of now famous professional singers started life off at Preston Opera. Frank Salter encouraged Alfie Boe to go to Preston Opera and Alfie even mentions the company in the first chapter of his autobiography. Locals, Amanda Roocroft and Jane Irwin, now both international opera singers, have also sung with Preston Opera in concert.
The company is a registered charity and is run by volunteers with a committee of around 12 people. They ask their members what their top three operas they would like to see performed. “There’s quite a range,” adds Diane. “From the more popular ones to something we hadn’t thought about before.”
This year it is Carmen which has been popular for a long time. Each committee member will have a specific role, whether its props or wardrobe and costumes. “Some of the costumes will be home grown,” said Diane. “We are very lucky in that we have a couple of ladies who are handy with a needle and thread. When we perform an opera more than once, it will always be different. This year I have updated it to the 1950s so it’s a chance to bring out some new costumes and a different look.”
The singers are currently in rehearsals and people will be able to see performances of Carmen on 29th, 30th and 31st May at Fulwood Academy.
Tickets are around £12 each and are available from prestonopera.org.uk.
If you haven’t tried opera before then give it a go. Carmen is a wonderful production with amazing music. Alternatively, there will be a concert at Lancaster Priory in July with internationally renowned soprano Jane Irwin, who also has linked with Preston Opera.
Visit the website for a range of membership fees and for further information