What we do
- Our full-scale productions at the Peacock Theatre in London, and
- Our series of workshops Easter and in the summer.
We also mount other performances, and there have been over the years a number of extra training and performing opportunities for our participants, including masterclasses with giants of the opera world such as Sir Thomas Allen, Dame Josephine Barstow, Susan Bullock, Maestro José Cura, Sir Mark Elder, Edward Gardner, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Yvonne Kenny, Diana Montague, David Rendall, Joan Rodgers, Robert Tear, and Sir John Tomlinson, as well as actor Timothy West and director Jonathan Miller.
For details of some of the extra opportunities we have offered in our 30-year history, see Our History: A British Youth Opera timeline.
In the summer of each year, British Youth Opera brings together a company of 80-100 people to mount two full productions at the Peacock Theatre in London.
Singers are auditioned in January and February, and the programme is then announced at the end of February having been chosen to best suit the singers in the company. After that, music, creative and production trainees are interviewed and offered roles.
Equal opportunities for participants from all backgrounds
In July participants come together from all over the country to begin rehearsals.
Thanks to the generous support of individual donors, trusts and foundations, we are able to ensure that no young singer who is successful in audition is excluded from the opportunity to participate. We pay a subsistence contribution to all our trainees, and source free accommodation when needed so that they can relocate to London for the duration of their time with us. For those who need further help, a bursary fund is also available.
Rehearsals begin with a music week led by the professional conductor.
The training we offer is intended to complement the training that our singers are receiving elsewhere. Many of British Youth Opera’s productions are sung in English. This particular skill – to perform in English with sufficient clarity and expression that surtitles are not required – is enormously valuable to young singers once they embark on their careers, and has led to many finding professional work with such companies as English National Opera.
British Youth Opera provides an amazing chance to collaborate with students from other conservatoires and is an excellent platform to perform in front of industry professionals. My first main role with BYO came just before I started opera school and I feel that it helped me make the most of this time. I was able to invite people who had seen me in ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’ to shows at the RCM and at this time had my first audition at ENO where I was cast in ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ and later became a Harewood Artist.
Katie Coventry – Mezzo-Soprano
After more than five weeks in a rehearsal room, the company moves to the Peacock Theatre. Each show continues with five stage-and-piano rehearsals, a piano dress rehearsal, two stage-and orchestra and one full dress rehearsal before opening for a three night run in September. In all, it is an eight week process for our participants.
Throughout, young repetiteurs, assistant directors, assistant conductors, assistant designers, assistant lighting designers, costume assistants and assistant production and stage managers shadow and train with professionals in each of their fields, being given first-hand experience and responsibility in all aspects of the productions.
I participated with BYO in 2014 and thanks to the experience and tutoring I received during my time with them I am now working with some of the leading opera companies in the UK (ENO, Glyndebourne, and so on). My time at BYO provided me with the experience, skills and confidence I needed to become a professional stage manager in opera. I made lots of professional contacts and have come to work with many of the performers and production team in my career again. Having been part of BYO feels like being part of a family and I would never be where I am today without that opportunity and the support I was given.
Maikel Bellanco – Assistant Stage Manager
As well as the main cast’s three performances, covers for all the principal singing roles have an opportunity to give a 60-75 minute cover performance of extracts. All performances are attended by the public and industry professionals such as agents and casting directors, as well as friends, family and school groups.
After the summer
Many of our participants over the years have successfully auditioned in a second or even third year, progressing into more challenging roles. Meanwhile others come back to support the company by singing in concerts and other events.
We value the relationships with have with our alumni enormously, and we know that our alumni make active use of the connections they form through BYO. These connections prove beneficial for the rest of their careers.
The January/February audition process casts the summer shows but also allows the team to offer places on British Youth Opera’s workshops, of which there are now 10 annually – three at Easter and seven in the summer.
Workshops train 10-12 singers at a time, and run for five days each. They are led by a director and a music director, employed for their particular skill in coaching emerging talent. In addition, a movement director will come to run a couple of sessions over the course of the week.
There is no performance at the end of the workshops: the process is designed to evolve performance skills and allow participants to take risks and learn in a safe environment, without the pressure of a ‘showing’ of their work at the end.
Content varies from workshop to workshop, and singers can over a number of years attend several with different leaders. Workshops are about much more than just vocal training. They offer participants a space in which to develop more widely as a performer: improvisation, games and exercises are used to help participants develop characters, in a way that they find hugely liberating. Group coaching is given on arias, and plenty of time is also available to discuss the wider aspects of the career: auditions, for example, and the importance of building a portfolio of other work which can support a singer between roles.
One key aspect of this process which adds to what our singers are learning at college is that they have the opportunity to work with a new group of people: good training for rehearsal processes in their professional careers, but also a wonderful chance to be inspired by other young singers.
The buzz and group-spirit among our workshop attendees is always immense, and many return to do more. Workshops are completely free, and free accommodation can be sourced for those without a base in London.
Our students benefit hugely from participation with BYO. They come back with wonderful feedback, as better students, having had such a lot of wonderful input from professional directors, conductors and colleagues. BYO take a lot of care to think of the long-term development of young singers and their support and help is hugely appreciated by this department.
Lynne Dawson – Head of Vocal Studies and Opera, Royal Northern College of Music
British Youth Opera also curates other performances throughout the year. Audiences enjoy the opportunity to hear our outstanding singers in a different setting and many of our Friends and supporters attend these concerts. We also hold fundraising events with performances, such as our annual Winter Gala.
Concerts offer the opportunity for alumni from recent seasons to work together and to try new repertoire, and for us to provide them with paid performance opportunities. They also provide new and different training experiences, taking place in varied, sometimes challenging locations.
BYO has given me fantastic contacts, guidance, support, and experience. I have attended workshops, and taken part in two different operas: as Paris in ‘Roméo et Juliette’ and The Speaker in ‘The Magic Flute’. I have also taken part in several concerts and fundraising events – this is almost a skill-set of its own! I believe it is important for performers such as myself to represent the industry and art form, and to fight for its support and survival.
Nicholas Lester – Baritone and alumnus