31st May 2008

Welcome to this first blog entry. I don't yet quite know what directions the blog will go in, but as Bachtrack is a classical music web site and my main interests are music, internet technology and running technology businesses, that should give some clues!

I've been listening to opera since I was a very small child. Growing up in France in the 1960s, there wasn't much in the way of kids television (if you discount five-minuters like The Magic Roundabout and Bonne Nuit Les Petits) so I listened to opera on my parents' gramophone: mainly Verdi and Bellini. I was even taken to see Maria Callas singing Norma at the Paris Opera House – the greatest of privileges and an experience to remember forever.

But in adult life, although I've listened to plenty of opera on CD, I lost the habit of seeing it live, mainly because of the expense and the difficulty of booking. Good tickets to Covent Garden have been over £100 a throw for a long time, and you have to be mega-organised to get them, since the popular events sell out early. With a maximum of one or maybe two visits a year affordable, it was simply too much hassle to go through the whole process of joining “Friends” lists and doing the season's planning well in advance, at a tight deadline for the priority booking forms.

I'd heard of Glyndebourne, of course, but viewed it as out of financial reach. There's the ENO, of course, but I speak adequate Italian and don't particularly enjoy Italian opera sung in English. I simply assumed that not not much else was on.

Today, doing a search on Bachtrack for opera in London paints a very different picture. As I write this, the system shows over 300 events in London which are either complete operas or opera extracts. As well as Covent Garden and the ENO, there's the Holland Park Festival, Massenet's Cendrillon at Queen Elizabeth Hall, aria recitals at Cadogan Hall, Handel's wonderful Orlando at Wigmore Hall, Vaughan Williams' Pilgrim's Progress and Bernstein's Candide at Sadler's Wells, Philip Glass's Waiting for the Barbarians at the Barbican, and a bunch of other concert performances. You can even catch snatches of Parsifal at the improbable venue of St Paul's Cathedral. Just gone by, there have also been low cost semi-pro performances from Opera London and Hampstead Garden Opera.

If I widen the search to 100 miles from home, using Bachtrack's new distance filter, I pick up over 100 more listings, including Glyndebourne, major opera festivals at Garsington and Grange Park, performances in Brighton by the Russian State Opera Orchestra, and a variety of other bits and pieces.

Put simply, there is an enormous wealth of opera being performed within easy reach of home that, in spite of being an opera lover since childhood, I had absolutely no idea about. It makes me wonder two things:

  1. How many closet opera fans are out there who would go to a lot of these performances if only they knew they existed?
  2. What happens in the marketing teams of the organisations who put on these events? How come none of their material reached me?
(But that's a subject for another blog...)