Monday, 24 January 2011


A new box office server has been causing sleepless nights. Essentially what happens is this; the network team is required to run certain bits of equipment that comply with government security regulations. This has all come about since those few data losses government suffered a couple of years ago. A few hundred millions are then thrown at replacing bits of computer equipment around the country. Our box office, which was on a two year old server needed to be changed pronto, or we would be switched off. OK, so we buy a new server, move the software to it and hey presto. That really is all there is to it. However, 14 people, about four companies, acquirers, banks and sundry other individuals become involved and you very quickly understand why government IT projects grow to huge costs and over runs. What also happens is that this army of people begin to use me as the conduit for speaking to everybody else. And of course, they have their own language too. Thousands of emails seem to buzz between us all, cc, bcc, in triplicate, most of them establishing for the sender the position of NOT being responsible for doing something or other. In such circumstances, it isn't very long before my propensity to shout and swear comes to the fore. There is one distinct blessing amid the thousand and one elements of producing opera; it is, almost entirely, a human process. Today the transfer of software finally happens (I think) but there are other elements to complete before we can make a transaction through the bank. And the bank work at their own pace too. Doesn't matter a jot that we own them either.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Loaded with promise - again

It was a good Christmas for OHP. We went out into the community armed with mulled wine and sang in a variety of places, garnering, we hope, new friends and fans. But it culminated with the Sunday Times decision to award us with the accolade of Best Opera Company of 2010.

For a company of our size and constitution, that is a hell of an award really. But it presents another problem of course; how to follow it up. There is no question that the repertoire for 2011 offers ample opportunity for fantastic work and there are some exciting prospective performances to look forward to. It would be unfair to single any out but a glance at our cast lists will provoke some thought among you. Some terrific directors are back with us too along with debutantes, always an exciting mix. I have no doubt James will make all of the right calls. But this is the beauty of what we are engaged in, the 'on paper' season holds masses of promise but at this moment in time, we have nothing but the concept of our operas. People are about to buy tickets for something that is not yet created and I find that exciting and daunting in equal measure.

The rain is back with a vengeance so it is appropriate that the first technical meeting of the year is with the canopy company. The roof, which is always the first element of the build arrives in about seven weeks would you believe? We await decisions on sponsorships and a new box office server occupies rather more of my time than I would like. But the 2011 season is starting to feel pressing and immediate, a feeling that tends to bring out the best in us.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Question Time

Tonight at Leighton House, James and I will be subjected to a gentle grilling by around 100 of our patrons. It is an annual event but this year we have spruced it up by taking it to this beautiful house and by adding a singer or two. Actually, I say 'grilling' but it is never quite as bad as that. What is fascinating are the varied views of patrons who seem to want so many different things from the OHP experience. In the parlance of democracy, the OHP customer base is a broad church. I think there is probably a bit of High Church in there too, some no church probably as well. But it is fun and often extremely informative when it comes to designing the seasons ahead and the services we provide. You can never really talk to your audience too much although quite honestly, through any season, James and I will be stopped and lectured to by hundreds of people...our patrons and Friends have never been afraid to voice their opinions.

I can recall many evenings when we stand by the stage at curtain call, audience cheers and applause ringing in our ears, when a patron will rush past and say 'wonderful production, well done!', only to be immediately followed by a glum and ferocious looking patron saying 'awful, worst thing you have ever done'. T'was ever thus I suppose.

Anyway, I am very much looking forward to tonight. If you are going to be there, be gentle with me. With James you can do what you want.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011


The starter gun has sounded. Dougie, our company manager, was haranguing me about lighting needs today, a sure sign things are hotting up. Heavy snow warnings are in place for London this weekend which means it must be time to encourage our audience to think about the summer, we are about to report on the first year of our Inspire Project and the new box office server needs attention. the 2012 season is a whisker away from being finalised (and announced) and meetings to see the set models of upcoming productions are imminent. Site work begins soon and the contractors will all be in for a briefing within a fortnight or so.
Charities having gala nights are coming in to discuss things and there is, as ever a this time of year, the ridiculously familiar realisation that we only have six months to go! You would think we would be used it it by now wouldn't you? Perhaps it is good we feel the pressure as opposed to having a more relaxed and calm approach. Who wants that, eh?

Sunday, 2 January 2011

That was then...

The 2010 season seems a distant memory already; somebody asked me what productions we had done and I struggled to remember them all. That might be an age thing but it is more likely to have been the fact that we are so embroiled in the next one - and the one after that too. Such is the way of things in the office of an annual festival, the months between the seasons just fly by.

But 2011 is, for so many reasons a year of significance. Britain will be entering a profound period of austerity - or so we expect - and few in the arts are predicting the outcome for sponsorships, ticket sales or pretty much anything at all. This time last year, the recession was an undefined thing for many and not everybody knew how it might affect them. Now, there is some clarity in our world but the public are still waiting - certainly those not in the public sector.The theory that people seek relief from all this misery in entertainment is some reassurance for us all but it wouldn't be wise to take that for granted.

The year ended well for OHP with the Sunday Times naming us as the Best opera company of the year, a huge accolade in the circumstances. Obviously that gives us much to live up to 2011 but I have no doubt we can given the delicious programme (all Italian) and some of the artistic personnel we have on board, starting with the brilliant Stephen Barlow directing the opening production of Don Pasquale, which also sees the return of Richard Bonynge. That first night, as I have frequently pointed out in this blog, arrives with alarming speed and there is much to be done before then. The theatre will see further improvements and changes (that never seems to stop!) and our impact on the aesthetics of the park will be further upgraded which will keep Barrie, the parks manager, happy. Talking of our presence in the park, it is also lovely to inform that Fantastic Mr Fox will be back on the yucca lawn too.
So plenty to keep us busy through January and into the Spring (remember that?)