Our history – Opera Integra: 40 years and going…

By Terry Harris

From a local authority workshop to an award-winning amateur opera company

Opera Integra, originally the performing name of The Opera Workshop, was founded by Brian Galloway and Janet Colebrooke in September 1971 as part of the Addison Adult Education Institute, in turn part of Hammersmith & Fulham Educational Services. It was run as an opera workshop, where singers were given an opportunity to study music best suited to their voices. Concerts were held each term to give students platform experience.

Many of Opera Integra singers have gone on to enjoy successful professional careers, mostly as principal singers: Jean Copeland joined the Reiseoper Holland, Breffni Horgan Glyndebourne Festival Opera and Timothy Oldroyd Duisberg Oper. Lillian Lee also joined a German opera house as a principal singer. Cathryn Pope went to ENO (and sang on the Decca recording of The Rake’s Progress) and Joy Roper to Aachen Opera. Jennifer Samson joined Stuttgart Oper and Alma Sheehan ENO. Susan Underwood also went to ENO. John Upperton went to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Nuala Willis sang with the Royal Opera House and ENO and recently appeared in the film “Quartet”. Barry Hardy joined the chorus at the Royal Opera House.

Recently, Katarina Mina joined English Touring Opera as a principal singer and Julietta Demetriades has a successful career as a recitals singer. William Rae has sung in the Wexford Festival and given many public recitals in various concert halls. ; Roy Chalmers sings in the chorus at Opera Holland Park. Ian Wilson-Pope sings regularly with Opera North, Welsh National Opera and many other opera companies throughout the UK.

Opera Integra has continued to be able to attract talented young opera directors, who have gone on to commercial success in major opera companies, such as The Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Scottish Opera and Glyndebourne and opera festivals such as Buxton and Wexford.

Opera Integra’s first public concert took place on 24 March 1972 in Hammersmith County School for Girls, Shepherds Bush and consisted of excerpts from Così fan Tutte, Otello, Le Nozze di Figaro, La Traviata, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Giulio Cesare, Orfeo ed Euridice, Love in a Village (Arne), L’Elisir d’Amore, Don Giovanni and La Clemenza di Tito. The concert was a success with high audience approval.

Opera Integra’s first performance of a complete opera was two concert performances with orchestra of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, which took place on 30 June and 1 July 1972 in Christopher Wren School, Shepherds Bush. In recognition that it was its first complete opera and that Opera Integra had been founded 40 years before, on 1-2 April 2011 Opera Integra performed this opera again, as a staged performance with piano, sung in English, at St John’s Church, Notting Hill, two sell-out performances.

Opera Integra’s first staged performance of a complete opera (as opposed to a concert performance) was Massenet’s Cinderella, sung in English with piano accompaniment, at the Christopher Wren School in Shepherds Bush. Four performances were given between 6th and 8th March 1975, including a Saturday afternoon matinee.

Under the expert direction and enthusiasm of Brian Galloway this small company with its humble beginnings quickly gained a reputation for the quality of its music and singing, for its wide-ranging and challenging repertoire and for performing early opera. It staged the UK premieres of Alessandro Scarlatti’s La Rosaura (February 1974, recorded and broadcast on Radio London in May 1974), from a manuscript copied by hand (a daunting task with copies needed for both orchestra players and singers), and Antonio Cesti’s Orontea (1975). It staged the first UK performances in modern times of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Cadmus et Hermione (1977) and Roland (1983), the latter also from manuscript which had to be copied by hand. Other early operas performed by Opera Integra include Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (1973) and The Fairy Queen (1980), Arne’s Comus (1975), Monteverdi’s Il Ballo delle Ingrate, L’Incoronazione di Poppea (both in 1979), Gluck’s The Drunkard Reformed (1972), The Cadi Outwitted (1973) Orfeo ed Euridice (1980) and Iphigénie en Tauride (1987).

Early Baroque and rarely-performed operas and masques performed by Opera Integra are Albert Lortzing’s The Opera Rehearsal (Die Opernprobe) (1973) and The Poacher (Der Wildschütz) (1976), Franz Schubert’s The Conspirators (1974), William Shield’s Rosina (1974), Stephen Storace’s No Song, No Supper (1976), Charles Dibdin’s The Waterman (1977), Balfe’s Satanella (1977, recorded by Opera Rara), Purcell’s King Arthur (1981) and more recently Verdi’s A Day in the Reign (Un Giorno di Regno), later renamed by Verdi Il finto Stanislao (2003). Gustav Holst’s 1-act comic opera, The Wandering Scholar, was performed in 1974 (in the same programme as Rosina).

In fact Opera Integra has performed a wide range of operas, in both staged and concert performances, with or without orchestra, from the 17th to the 20th century – see the complete list. As of April 2013 Opera Integra has performed 50 different complete operas, some of them more than once in different productions. Its production of Onegin in 2010 won the National Operatic and Dramatic Association award for the best amateur production in London – the first time the award has been given to a grand opera production (it is usually given to operettas, musicals or Gilbert and Sullivan).

Apart from the complete operas, Opera Integra has performed a wide selection of extracts, usually in the original language, from almost 100 other operas and operettas of major composers such as Arne, Auber, Beethoven, Bellini, Berlioz, Bizet, Borodin, Britten, Cavalli, Cherubini, Cimarosa, Debussy, Delibes, Donizetti, Dvorak, Flotow, Handel, Humperdinck, Leoncavallo, Mascagni, Mussorsky, Ponchiella, Paisiello, Poulenc, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rossini, Smetana, Spohr, Wagner. See the complete list.

Until the end of 1987 many of the complete operas performed by Opera Integra were with full orchestra accompaniment and were sung in the original language. This continued until Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, a staged performance in French with orchestra at the Polish Theatre, Hammersmith in December 1987.

There was one further performance with orchestra: to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen Opera Integra put on a staged performance with no dialogue, with orchestra and puppets, in March 1992 in Holy Innocents Church, Hammersmith.

Such is its reputation that Opera Integra has been invited to perform in The City of London Festival Fringe (Christ Church, Spitalfields), The Bloomsbury Festival (Bloomsbury Theatre – a staged performance with 33-piece orchestra and 8 actors of The Rake’s Progress), Beaulieu Abbey, The Deanery Gardens Bampton, The Rotary Club Lymington, Adwell House Oxfordshire. It performs outside London every second year in Chalfont St Giles. It has also performed by invitation in a private house in Kensington.

Opera Integra has performed widely in churches throughout West and South West London, as well as other venues, such as the Treasury Chambers, Imperial College, Wolfson Hall in Charing Cross Hospital, Leighton House Kensington (23 times between 1981 and 1998).

In its early years Opera Integra enjoyed financial support from Hammersmith & Fulham Council, which allowed it to perform with orchestra in theatre environments, such as the Fulham Town Hall, Fulham Library, Hammersmith Town Hall, Ravenscourt Park Theatre, the Polish Theatre. After it ceased to be a local authority workshop in early 1994 Opera Integra moved its main activities to the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and began rehearsals at Colville School in Notting Hill.

Opera Integra then received generous support from the Kensington & Chelsea Arts Council until 2004, but since then has been totally dependent on ticket sales, donations, funds raised by its own efforts and the subscriptions paid by its members (currently £90 per term). Opera Integra, a registered charity which welcomes donations, also gives charity performances in which it receives part of the income, the rest going to the local charity.

With the continuing support of members and friends Opera Integra looks forward to its next 40 years of producing wonderful opera performances in west London.

Terry Harris, April 2013