Founded in 1997 by director Bill Bankes-Jones, conductor Orlando Jopling and administrator Katie Price, Tête à Tête has established itself as the home of new opera.
Since its inception, the company has drawn on the skills of 10,000+ singers, conductors, instrumentalists, sound engineers, lighting specialists, costume designers, videographers and producers to create over 500 new productions. In the process, we’ve become the ‘go to’ platform for opera talent.
Reaching for the corners
The first decade of the Tête à Tête era saw the team take its productions all over the UK, collaborating with the likes of Battersea Arts Centre, ENO studio, Streetwise Opera, Opera Genesis and a host of composers and producers to produce eight experimental productions. Consequently, the team fostered successful relationships with some of the standout alternative opera venues in the country, from the Bridewell Theatre, The Purcell Room and the world premiere staging of Benjamin Britten’s Canticles in Westminster Abbey, to a derelict Alexandra Palace, the Norwegian city of Sandnes and Fair Isle in Shetland. The 2006 collaboration with the spinners and knitters of the Shetland Islands for Odysseus Unwound was the first ever opera production to be performed on the isle, and was consequently featured on BBC 2’s The Culture Show.
Right from the start, the first seeds were sown for the company’s pursuit of a truly inclusive art form. After the joyous Flying Fox, an intoxicatingly immersive Fledermaus, Shorts saw the company venturing into commissioning new work from six composers and librettists of varying ages, cultural backgrounds and genders to stage the first of many world premières. After many sold out performances and a national tour of both this and its sequel, Six-Pack, a new approach to the process of creating opera saw over 400 members of the public contribute aural and written feedback on the first draft of Family Matters at Battersea Arts Centre, before a run at the Bridewell Theatre and a national tour ranging from major venues to a sixth form college.
Over the following years, it was apparent that many individual artists and groups were exploring how to use words, music, staging and the human voice to energise, entrance, entertain and engage with the public. Tête à Tête saw that mentoring for these artists and their work was extremely scarce, and recognised that there was an urgent need for a supportive low-risk platform in which artists and companies could promote and development their talent simultaneously. This led to the birth of Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival.
A festival for the forerunners
Built upon a responsibility to share our experience, infrastructure and access to resources to unlock opportunities for a new generation of opera creators and audiences, the inaugural Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival launched in 2007 to huge acclaim. In its first 10 years, over 40,000 people had enjoyed over 1000 performances, involving the world premieres of over 400 new works. That same year, 2017, the festival branched out to include performances in public spaces, and saw successful pop-up operas in shopping centres, markets, pubs and parks, a feature that is now incorporated into our festivals year on year.
Alongside all this activity, Tête à Tête has remained at heart a producing company, most notably scoring a British Composer Award for Kerry Andrew’s Dart’s Love in 2013, uniting Royal College of Music Composers in our continued collaborations Great Expectations, Hogarth’s Stages, Crime & Punishment, which included the the company’s first Live Stream, and Frankenstein. The recent world première of Samuel Bordoli’s Grind was performed at the Southbank Centre, London, Transition Extreme, Aberdeen and at Unit23 Skate Park, Dumbarton as part of the Glasgow UNESCO Commonwealth Games; the production was shortlisted for 2015 British Composer Awards in the Community and Education category and released afterwards on NMC Records. In addition the company has developed its outdoor performances in King’s Cross by producing series as part of the annual Cubbit Sessions outdoor festival.
Celebrating 21 years
In 2019 Tête à Tête moved into adulthood and onto its next adventure. The company was awarded the UK Arts On Line Award for the Tête à Tête online archive of 400+ videos of every performance hosted or produced since 2008. This is the largest online video resource for new opera on the internet, reaching audiences in 155 Countries from Azerbaijan to Uruguay and from Indonesia to Iceland! You can read more about it here. Our 12th Festival took place in Summer 2019 and was our longest yet! Breaking out of just King’s Cross with satellite performances beyond its beating heart.
2020 saw us deliver a manifesto, an online chorus, a pilot for the DCMS and our 2020 Festival with over 50 events including live indoor performances to socially distanced audiences. Check out what we got up to in a year like no other here.
In Summer 2021, as the UK continued to face the Covid-19 pandemic, we delivered a powerful community participation project Song of the Sea for the G7 leaders in Carbis Bay and our 14th Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival with over 42 events and 23 new operas made by artists from throughout the UK.