Streamlined and Singing for a New Future; City of Birmingham Touring Opera Company Has Gone Back to Basics and Changed Everything - Including Its Name. Artistic Director Graham Vick Tells Terry Grimley Why

By Grimley, Terry | The Birmingham Post (England), October 25, 2000 | Go to article overview

Streamlined and Singing for a New Future; City of Birmingham Touring Opera Company Has Gone Back to Basics and Changed Everything - Including Its Name. Artistic Director Graham Vick Tells Terry Grimley Why


Grimley, Terry, The Birmingham Post (England)


For an opera director used to working in places like Glyndebourne, Covent Garden and La Scala, Digbeth Coach Station might seem a slightly eccentric choice of venue.

But that is where Graham Vick says he would ideally have liked to stage his forthcoming production of Berg's Votzek. Unhappily, coaches are still going to have first claim on it for the time being, so when the production is unveiled in Birmingham in late February it is likely to be in some inner-city industrial warehouse, still to be identified.

It will also be unveiled under a new banner: for City of Birmingham Touring Opera Company, now read Birmingham Opera Company. The streamlined name reflects a radically rethought strategy for the group, formed 13 years ago by an amalgamation of the former English Touring Opera and Cannon Hill Music Theatre.

At that time, the marriage was blessed by the Arts Council, which was keen to develop high quality, small-scale touring opera. But now small-scale companies have proliferated (confusingly, one of them picking up the abandoned name English Touring Opera) and Vick, who combines artistic directorship of the Birmingham company with being head of productions at Glyndebourne, has decided its whole method of working needs to be rethought.

'One of the first things with the change of direction is that we will be performing in Birmingham and two other places, but we're not going to do one-night stands,' he explains. 'The trouble with doing 18 one-night stands is you're trying to do too many things at one time.'

Looking back over the years, CBTO could point to many exceptional artistic achievements, including commissions from John Tavener and Ravi Shankar, the award-winning Ring cycle and the first-ever professional British production, after more than 200 years, of Rameau's Les Boreades.

The trouble is, it hasn't been as radical as Vick originally envisaged. While the company initially set out to present a professional production which toured nationally, plus a Birmingham-based community project each year, this has proved impossible to sustain.

'We have achieved a certain level and a certain prestige, but the reality of it is that we could only ever produce one thing at a time,' he says.

'So we're putting the two strands into one strand. In future, the productions will generate a lot of education and outreach work, outwards from the centre, so that what we do will have a broader impact. We are pulling the whole thing together, putting community and outreach at the centre of what we do.'

Votzek will provide the template for the company's future work, presented in a non-theatrical venue with a professional cast and orchestra at its centre but with many opportunities for anyone to become involved.

'Votzek will be a very contemporary production and we're going to be doing it in a big warehouse space. It might be a promenade production - I haven't decided that yet.

'There will be various levels of community involvement, including directly in performance. There will be 15 interludes, a series of scenes like sketches, developed with non-professional people.

'They will be different in each of the three places we do the piece, although obviously the professional singers and orchestra will always be there. …

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