Our History: A BYO Timeline
1987 British Youth Opera is founded by Denis Coe MP to give high-standard performance opportunities to singers straight out of music college. Denis was a member of the board of the National Youth Theatre and had seen that the practical experience participants were receiving was greatly enhancing their opportunity for entering the profession. In the days before the opera companies had young artists’ programmes, British Youth Opera was conceived as a ‘bridge’ organisation, to offer young singers performance opportunities in a fully professional but nurturing environment, in which they could train on the job and perform before a paying audience of the public, and before industry professionals whose influence could help them in their ongoing careers.
Over the years we have sadly seen the demise of large company ensembles in the major opera houses. When I started my career in the 1980s, I joined the English National Opera, where there were then up to 40 people in the ensemble, singers of all ages, ranging from me in my 20s to those in their 60s and 70s. BYO gives the young people of today a chance to do what I was lucky enough to do within a company. In other words, they are able to learn about being a member of a team and how a production works, whether they are soloists, chorus, understudies or working backstage. I wanted to get involved with British Youth Opera to make sure that as many people as possible were able to have this wonderful opportunity at an early stage in their development.
- Susan Bullock, Soprano and Trustee
The first years were touring years: opening shows in Newcastle, where Denis had connections and was able to access funding, and then going on to the Cambridge Arts Theatre and the Bloomsbury Theatre in London. Instrumentalists were auditioned by an orchestra manager and trained in sectional rehearsals led by musicians from orchestras such as the ENO’s. Robert Lloyd is President, and Timothy Dean is Music Director.
1991 BYO moves to Sadler’s Wells. Diana, Princess of Wales becomes Patron.
1993 Valerie Masterson takes over from Robert Lloyd as President, and BYO gives performances of The Magic Flute as part of the BOC Covent Garden Festival at the Freemasons’ Hall, something which is repeated with A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1994 and The Gondoliers in 1997.
1994 The Edinburgh Festival Theatre opens and the first event there outside of the Festival season is a performance from BYO. We return in 1996 to do the same.
1996 Sadler’s Wells is closed for a rebuild, so BYO moves to the New Wimbledon Theatre for a year. Jamie Hayes becomes Director of Productions, and Albert Herring is BYO’s first Britten opera in the main season.
1997 BYO sets aside the touring model to concentrate on London productions, which are now at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Denis Coe withdraws for medical reasons.
2001 The Easter workshop programme begins. Taking advantage of the offer of a week at the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House, BYO mounts a production of The Abduction from the Seraglio in February, followed by The Yeomen of the Guard in the summer. The idea is raised to run a Gilbert and Sullivan workshop at Easter to prepare some of the singers for the style, which is done with a couple of performances at the end. It is decided to expand on this workshop programme the following year.
2002 BYO runs an operetta workshop and a Mozart workshop in preparation for summer productions of Orpheus in the Underworld and Le nozze di Figaro.
2004 Workshops continue at Easter. BYO is beginning to settle into the workshop format that continues to this day – working on pieces of repertoire and performance skills in a closed environment without an audience, with the time to work in depth and look at process in a way that isn’t possible in a rehearsal period when under pressure to produce a finished performance. It is also this year that BYO’s valuable partnership begins with the Southbank Sinfonia. The orchestra’s capacity means that the company is able to take on much more challenging repertoire, performing The Cunning Little Vixen that year.
2005 BYO moves to its London home, the Peacock Theatre. The facilities are vastly better than were available at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, with a proper theatre, orchestra pit and dressing room facilities: the perfect size for training productions with young singers, while being bigger than the college theatres to increase the level of challenge.
2006 Peter Robinson, instrumental in the creation of BYO, takes over as Artistic Director, and BYO casts La bohème for Southbank Sinfonia’s performances at the Anghiari Festival above the Tiber valley in Italy, and in the Dordogne.
2008 Flight – BYO’s first contemporary opera is performed: written by Jonathan Dove with a libretto by April de Angelis, and BYO produces L’elisir d’amore at the Anghiari Festival, directed by Stuart Barker.
2009 As well as the summer productions, opera scenes are performed with piano accompaniment at the Anghiari Festival.
2010 Euridice by Stephen Oliver is a new composition based on Jacopo Peri’s first extant opera – a rare opportunity for it to be heard.
2012 Dame Felicity Lott takes over as President, and BYO mounts its first piece by Judith Weir: A Night at the Chinese Opera. This is the first year that a BYO production involves puppetry, now a regular feature in our performances as a valuable part of the training.
BYO has given opportunities to so many young people in the world of opera, both on stage and back stage. Students leaving the music colleges can learn about everything that goes into making an opera happen, from translating the initial designs into sets, sourcing or making costumes, (and getting singers in and out of them with split-second timing), to learning about lighting, stage management, assisting the conductor and director - and how to handle temperamental people! There are so many possible jobs to be found in the business besides being a singer.
I am very proud to be the President of such a vibrant and practical company.
– Dame Felicity Lott, Soprano and President of BYO
2014 Peter Robinson steps down and Stuart Barker becomes Director of Training and Productions, with Lionel Friend as Music Director. The summer workshop programme begins: by now there are 7 separate workshops annually. The Little Green Swallow is the first show to use a revolve: fantastic training for both the stage management team and the singers – the latter required to sing while doing such things as walking backwards on a revolve, operating puppets!
2017 The Vanishing Bridegroom, a second opera by Judith Weir, continues BYO’s mission to give London productions of operas which are less often seen, and should in our view be more available to audiences.
2018 The number of workshops increases to 10, with three at Easter and 7 in the summer, and BYO gives the UK premiere of The Enchanted Island by Jeremy Sams: only ever performed before at the New York Metropolitan Opera.
Generations of young singers have taken their first operatic steps outside of college thanks to BYO. The company’s imaginative programming and ambitious productions are a fixture in the calendar of anyone interested in new opera talent, so for a trainee singer, a summer spent with BYO is not only about stage experience alongside performers from across the British training centres, but also about getting noticed. BYO is a great organisation that I hope will serve many more generations of opera singers in years to come.
- Armin Zanner, Head of Vocal Studies at Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Productions and alumni*
*There are far too many alumni to mention but this timeline includes some notable examples
1988 Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro, with Rosemary Joshua as Suzanna, at the Tyne Theatre & Opera House, Newcastle upon Tyne; the Bloomsbury Theatre, London, and Cambridge Arts Theatre
1989 Cosí fan tutte and The Magic Flute, at the Tyne Theatre & Opera House, Newcastle upon Tyne; the Bloomsbury Theatre, London, and Cambridge Arts Theatre
1990 Eugene Onegin, with William Dazeley playing the title role and Christopher Lemmings as Lensky; and The Marriage of Figaro, at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London, the New Athanaeum Theatre, Glasgow, and the Cambridge Arts Theatre
1993 La bohème, with Gwyn Hughes Jones as Marcello (this was before Gwyn became a tenor), and Christopher Maltman as Schaunard and The Marriage of Figaro, at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London and the Mumford Theatre, Cambridge; and The Magic Flute (in association with BOC Covent Garden Festival) at the Freemason’s Hall, London
1994 Eugene Onegin and The Theiving Magpie, with Colin Judson as Isaaco, Heather Shipp as Pippo, and Stuart Barker as Assistant Director, at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, and Edinburgh Festival Theatre; and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Freemason’s Hall, London
1995 Robinson Crusoe, with Wynne Evans in the title role at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London
1996 The Magic Flute and Albert Herring, with David Kempster as Sid, understudied by Mark Stone; Sir John in Love (in association with Oxford University Chamber Orchestra & Chorus) at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford and St John’s, Smith Square, London
1997 Don Giovanni, designed by Es Devlin and The Rake’s Progress, with Peter Auty as Tom Rakewell, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, and Spitalfields Market Opera, London; and The Gondoliers (in association with BOC Covent Garden Festival) at the Freemason’s Hall, London
1998 La bohème, with Peter Auty as Rodolfo and Grant Doyle (good to ask for quote) as Schaunard, and Cosí fan tutte, with Allison Cook as Despina, Andrew Foster-Williams as Don Alfonso, Edward Gardner as Assistant Conductor, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
My time with BYO was hugely valuable. I was in the middle of a conducting course with limited experience of any kind, and to spend the summer working at a professional level with great singers and guidance was exactly what I needed. I still think of my time there as the first proper opera production I worked on, and BYO gave me the taste and the appetite for a lifetime of work in opera!
- Edward Gardner, Conductor
2000 Xerxes with Stephanie Marshall in the title role, and The Rape of Lucretia with Catherine Carby as Lucretia, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London; and The Abduction from the Seraglio at the Linbury Theatre, London
2001 The Yeomen of the Guard with Richard Burkhard as Jack Point, at the Linbury Theatre, London
2003 The Magic Flute with David Soar as Sarastro and Thomas Walker as Tamino, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Rebecca Bottone as Titania and Cordelia Chisholm as Assistant Designer, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
2004 Semele with Elizabeth Watts as Semele, Ed Lyon as Jupiter, and Anna Stéphany as Juno; and The Cunning Little Vixen with Lucy Crowe as Vixen and David Stout as Forester, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. Simon Fujiwara was Assistant Designer and Max Webster Assistant Director
2005 Roméo et Juliette, with Jacques Imbrailo as Mercutio and Nicholas Lester as Paris; and Cosí fan tutte with David Stout as Guglielmo, at the Peacock Theatre, London. Max Webster was Assistant Director
2006 Don Giovanni and Eugene Onegin, with George von Bergen as Eugene Onegin and Katherine Broderick as Tatyana, at the Peacock Theatre, London; and La bohème (in association with the Southbank Sinfonia/Anghiari Festival) at Anghiari Festival, Italy, and Château de Berbiguiéres, France
2007 The Magic Flute, with John Savournin as Second Priest, and Albert Herring, with Ben Johnson as Albert, Benedict Nelson as Sid, George Humphries as Superintendent Budd, David Butt Philip as Mr Gedge (now a tenor), at the Peacock Theatre, London
2008 La rondine, with Meeta Raval as Magda, and Flight, with Nicky Spence as Bill and Duncan Rock as the Steward, at the Peacock Theatre, London; and L’elisir d’amore (in association with Southbank Sinfonia/Anghiari Festival) at the Anghiari Festival, Italy
2009 Il Signor Bruschino/La scala di seta, with Natalya Romaniw as Giulia, Hanna Hipp as Lucilla and Gary Griffiths as Germano; and The Rake’s Progress, with Nicky Spence as Tom Rakewell, Rosie Aldridge as Mother Goose, Paul Curievici as Sellem, and Barnaby Rea as the Madhouse Keeper, at the Peacock Theatre in London
2011 Le nozze di Figaro with Ellie Laugharne as Suzanna, Matthew Stiff as Figaro, John Savournin as the Count and Eleanor Dennis as the Countess, Katie Bray as Cherubino, Thomas Faulkner as Doctor Bartolo, Sioned Gwen Davies as Marciolina, and Lucy Hall as Barbarina; and The Rape of Lucretia with Ashley Riches as Tarquinius and Elin Pritchard as the Female Chorus, at the Peacock Theatre, London
2012 The Bartered Bride with Luis Gomes as Jeník, Samuel Furness as Vašek, and Jennifer France as Esmerelda, and A Night at the Chinese Opera with James Hall as the Military Governor and Lliam Paterson, repetiteur, at the Peacock Theatre, London
2015 The Cunning Little Vixen with Katie Coventry as the Fox and Riders to the Sea/Sāvitri with Huw Montague Rendall as Bartley, at the Peacock Theatre, London, with assistant designer Basia Binkowska who went on to become the overall winner of the prestigious 2017 Linbury Prize
2016 Owen Wingrave with Dominic Sedgwick in the title role, directed by Max Webster, and English Eccentrics with William Thomas as the Quartet Bass, at the Peacock Theatre, London, with assistant designer Khadija Raza who also went on to become winner of the 2017 Linbury Prize
2018 The Enchanted Island and The Rake’s Progress, at the Peacock Theatre London