Established in 2008, Co-Opera Co. provides a platform for young singers at the start of their professional careers. Susan Elkin attends the company’s latest production to see the work in progress

Last month I saw my fourth Don Giovanni of the summer. Fortunately the music is so ravishing and the piece so full of potential that fatigue has not yet set in.

Co-Opera Co’s version was staged at The John McIntosh Centre, which is within the grounds of the London Oratory School near Earls Court. It is now embarked on a tour which includes Wolverhampton, Croydon, Yeovil, Bury St Edmunds and Wellingborough, among other venues.

Co-Opera’s Don Giovanni, which toured August-October 2012

It is quite rare these days to see Mozart opera set in eighteenth-century dress and this one, like the other three Don Giovannis I saw this summer, is set in the present. Yair Polishook as Leporello has fun with the famous list presented as a phone app. Everyone in the cast is strong: David Milner-Pearce gives us a fruity charismatic Don Giovanni, Lisa Wilson sings beautifully as Donna Anna and Matthew Tomko brings suitable drama and bass depths to the Commendatore styled as a John Lennon lookalike – and there is some good work in the pit under Tim Murray. And how well it works when the cast is so young and full of energy.

Now in its fourth year, Co-Opera Co.is a co-operative opera company made up of members and associate members. The former are a group of like-minded, experienced professionals eager to pass on their expertise to the next generation. The latter are all professionals in the early stages of their careers. So, in a very real sense, this is a training organisation set up with the clear purpose of providing opportunities for learning on the job and crucially ‘learning while earning’ which the company has adopted as its slogan.

The idea is to give the associates an apprenticeship, in the form of paid work experience between college and a fully-fledged career. The cast of Don Giovanni includes a graduate from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and people who have studied, or are studying, at the Royal Academy of Music, Trinity Laban and various universities. Several came from, and had done part of their training, overseas meaning the ensemble is pleasingly international.

Co-Opera Co.was founded in 2008 by Soprano Kate Flowers and lighting designer Paul Need. They realised that the career path of young singers entering the operatic profession today is severely hampered by the closure and consequent absence of small prestigious companies such as Kent Opera and the New D’Oyly Carte. These were prevalent in the 1970s and 80s and used to make it possible for singers straight from college to work alongside seasoned professionals, in top class productions, in major venues. It meant they could learn invaluable lessons from watching and working with experienced artists. Today such opportunities are very rare.

So Flowers and Need decided to do something about it. They gathered together over 50 eminent professionals from every area of the profession – all people they knew and who were keen to pass on their expertise. Thus Co-Opera Co. was formed.

The company runs a comprehensive training programme – Connections – through which its members work on every aspect of opera in workshops, masterclasses and private coaching.

All this is in preparation for its summer touring performances of fully-staged operas with orchestra in London, and an Autumn tour to major houses throughout the UK.

Funding wise, and almost inevitably, Co-Opera Co. has no outside funding of any sort. The company does however welcome donations to the Philip Langridge Bursary Fund which has recently become a registered charity – the company was one of several training organisations with which Langridge worked indefatigably. Keeping ticket prices at an affordable rate also helps. Not just a training company for singers at the start of their careers, Co-Opera Co. manages to attract a diverse audience spanning all ages. It was so refreshing, for example, to see young people in the audience for Don Giovanni at the John McIntosh Centre and evidently enjoying the piece.

www.co-opera-co.org

 

 

Other training opera companies and courses…

 

Garsington Opera’s Emerging Artists scheme (part of the company’s Studio Programme).

Contact: 01865 368201 gemma@garsingtonopera.org

Website: www.garsingtonopera.org/education/studio-programme

 

Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker Young Artists, Royal Opera House

Contact: YoungArtistsProgramme@roh.org.uk

Website: www.roh.org.uk/about/jette-parker-young-artists-programme

 

British Youth Opera

Website: www.byo.org.uk

 

Clonter Opera Theatre’s Professional Opportunities policy

Website: www.clonteropera.com/index.html