The History of Tête à Tête
I am not familiar with opera, but I loved the content. It surprised me by having poetry and grandeur and I did not expect that with modern music.
(audience feedback from Blind Date R&D)
Tête à Tête was founded in 1997 by Director Bill Bankes-Jones, Conductor Orlando Jopling and administrator Katie Price.
Our first production, The Flying Fox, (Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss), was performed at BAC Opera 98 and at the Purcell Room. This success was promptly followed by Shorts first performed at BAC Opera 99, revived at the Bridewell Theatre Spring 2001 & the first touring work of the company (Autumn 2001), supported by the Arts Council of England and in the main through donations and a tremendous vote of confidence by Trusts and Foundations. This pattern of support continued to enable us to produce Orlando Plays Mad (Vivaldi’s Orlando Finto Pazzo) in a new edition again premièring at BAC Opera in 2000.
In February 2002, in co-production with the ENO Studio, the company presented Six-Pack, a second wildly successful compilation of short operas by a rich mix of composers, revisiting the Bridewell Theatre then on the road for our second national tour.
In May 2002, the company explored a new avenue of community work and music and performed the world première staging of Britten’s Canticles in Westminster Abbey, working in conjunction with clients in five centres for the homeless across London. This was a co-production with Streetwise Opera and the London Jubilee String of Pearls Festival.
Following such a busy year the company returned to the cycle of a London premiere and national touring with Family Matters in 2003-4, which was a reworking of the third Beaumarchais Figaro play by Amanda Holden and six diverse composers. Workshops were held at the Battersea Arts Centre where over 400 members of the public contributed aural and written feedback on the first draft. Performances then took place at the Bridewell Theatre and across the UK.
In August 2005 we began the journey of exploring deeper possibilities of Research and Development across art forms with an odyssey of our own, Odysseus Unwound. After a period of R&D with 5 Shetland knitters and spinners a workshop version was the first opera to be performed in the UK’s most remote community in Fair Isle, filmed by BBC 2’s Culture Show. 8 months later in Autumn 2006 the final version of Odysseus Unwound composed by Julian Grant opened in London at the beautifully derelict Alexandra Palace in conjunction with the Knitting and Spinning Show and toured to Norway and throughout the UK, finishing in the Shetland. The production was accompanied by an extensive education programme led by Chroma.
During this time David Bruce and Anna Reynolds’ new opera Push!, presenting the labour of six birthing mothers had been developed under the banner of Opera Genesis and Tête à Tête took on to produce it in Summer 2006. This was our first visit to Riverside Studios and the beginning of a partnership which has seen both organisations flourish.
It was after the huge successes of 2006 with Odysseus Unwound and PUSH! that it was apparent many, many individual artists and talented groups were exploring how to use words, music, staging and the human voice to energise, entrance, entertain and engage with the public. Following our own experiences over the past 7 years we also saw that support was scarce for these artists and thier work, especially at a very early stage both in terms of finances available and a platform to present the work to an audience. We had only been able to progress because of the support of established venues such as BAC, The Bridewell and ENO Opera Studio the vehicles for promoting new talent and that as these organizations have all now closed there was nowhere at all offering the chance for groups and artists to take their very first stumbling steps in a supportive low-risk environment.
We felt in the turbulent arena of arts it was now our responsibility to take up the challenge and use our experience, infrastructure, excellent public profile and access to resources to give a chance to a new whole generation of opera creators and audiences, to bring a whole new lease of life to the art-form itself. To help others in the same way we had been helped, from this passion came Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival.
The inaugural Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2007 was a huge success and comes out of our desire to be seen as not just a producing opera company, but also one that plays a key role in the development of artists and audiences for new opera outside our own portfolio of productions. The festival builds on and is an extension of developmental events like line dancing and speed dating, as well as giving artists the opportunity to test ideas and gain audience feedback, it also gave the audience the opportunity to share in and gain insight into the creative process.
The festival was followed by Blind Date in November 2007, where we returned to the winning formula of commissioning 6 operas from 6 composer/libretto teams to present 6 short pieces over one evening. Blind Date was presented at the Riverside Studios and on a national tour.
August 2008 saw the return of Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2008. 50 performances were presented over 12 days. 23 different companies/presenting artists were showcased and in all 30 world premieres, new works and works-in-progress were performed to an audience of over 2000.
For our Autumn productions, until there is proper viable support for the touring of contemporary opera in England we are focusing on consolidating a loyal and viable audience at our home base and November 2008 saw a sell out run at the Riverside Studios of The Cumnor Affair: An Elizabethan Murder Mystery the first opera for composer Philip Cashian and novelist Ian Pears.
In Summer 2009 we returned to The Riverside Studios with Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2009 staging more than 70 performances of 35 different productions playing to over 7000 people. The festival is a dynamic force for the new, flexible, small-scale and surprising, broadening the definition of opera hand in hand with a wide-ranging audience.
Autumn 2009 saw a return to The Riverside Studios, with a staging of Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds’ Salad Days. Bringing our trademark flair and theatricality to this much-loved musical for a hugely acclaimed sell-out run.
Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2010 (the fourth) took place in August 2010 with 60 performances of 26 productions playing to over 8000 people.
In winter 2010/11 we revived our production of Salad Days for an 8 week Christmas run, playing to huge critical acclaim and delighting an audience of over 15,000.
The fifth Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2011 took place 4 August – 21 August 2011. Hundreds of performers presented 59 different shows featuring the works of 52 composers and over a dozen vibraphones over 12 days. Of the shows, 48 performances of 4 separate Tête à Tête Lite Bite productions were presented in a variety of unusual public spaces and places across West London including parks, shopping centres, markets and pubs. There were also additional performance of these in the Riverside Studio foyer, terrace and bar.
2012 was a bustling year with 8 of our own productions plus a Festival. Spring saw Circus Tricks come to life, born from a past Lite Bite: The Knifetrowers Assistant. Written by Adey Grummet with music by Michael Henry it played for 6 performances at The Riverside Studios.
Summer saw the now permanent Opera fixture, Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival, return in August. The 6 Tête à Tête productions (4 Lite Bites and 2 main house shows) alongside 38 productions from across the sector played to many thousands inside the theatres, out on the streets and online at Tête à Tête: The Operas on line. Missed it? Check most of our past work and almost everything from past Festivals for free online HERE.
The winter saw us bring summer and sunshine to Riverside once more with a revival of our smash hit Salad Days, playing for a massive 81 performances to many tens of thousands of people. A live CD recording of our production is now available. Find how to obtain it HERE.
Since then we have produced the BASCA nominated Grind, our commission for choirs and skateboarders, we have worked with students at the Royal College of Music on Hogarth’s Stages and every year produced our Festival, now the largest festival of new opera in the world and based in London’s King Cross, whilst the online archive of all our work has, to date, been watched by over 600,000 worldwide.
We are on the eve of celebrating the 10th Birthday of Tête à Tête:The Opera Festival, 20 years of Tête à Tête and an exciting future ahead.