It is a strange truth of the London opera scene that fringe opera is, if anything, rather busier and even more dynamic than the great opera twin peaks of ROH and ENO. It is, accordingly, a bit more complicated to navigate, because there are literally hundreds of small companies appearing (or touring) hundreds of small venues, either independently or as part of festivals… But for your every little effort in exploration this jungle of artistic endeavour, you could be richly rewarded with some very special, rare evenings for less than you’d spend in the pub.
The best place to begin is the excellent Fringe Opera website, which is constantly updated with recommendations and picks. I can’t hope to be as comprehensive as them, but below, you’ll find a few of my own favourite sources of fringe opera, in a list compiled through sheer, downright favouritism.
Grimeborn has been Dalston’s answer to Glyndebourne since 2007, hosted by my favourite theatre in London, the ever-trendy Arcola. As you’d expect, it’s cool and edgy, but it also produces opera of exceptional musical quality, showcasing a glittering array of fresh new talent (often recent graduates) at knockdown prices. Grimeborn usually offers at least ten operas each summer, sometimes more, and usually eight are fantastic, one is deeply weird and one will make a gruesomely entertaining dinner party story for years to come. The exciting part is – you don’t know which is which, until you’ve seen them all!
Nearest tube: Dalston Kingsland (ok, it’s not the Tube).
Usually happens: 2nd week of August or thereabouts.
Tête à Tête has been going since 1997, and is a veritable plethora of creativity, with world premieres of new works galore. The operas tend to be short, so in one evening you can see at least three different works (with breaks for a quick drink in between): thoughtfully and dexterously organised, the programme always pushes the boundaries of what opera is, was, might or could be. Appropriately, they’ve moved from Riverside Studios to the Cair Paravel that is Central St Martins – and they also grace Kings Place too (so double check where you are going!).
Nearest tube: Kings Cross (could you get more central?).
Usually happens: Late July and Early August. Some productions circulate to Grimeborn afterwards, above.
Vault Festival occupied the delicously grimy Leake Street tunnels in early 2015. With six weeks of furious programming, it was more of a wild scramble than the logistical ballet that is Tête à Tête, above, but opera was included in the hectic programme. I popped along for a very thought provoking take on Don Giovanni (for the Tinder and cocaine generation) by Silent Opera which intrigued and impressed me: it even had its own app. Roll on next year.
Nearest tube: Waterloo (you can even hear the tube, it’s so close).
Usually happens: so far has only happened once, but it was late January, all February and early March.
Fulham Opera really is a very special experience every time, and I haven’t yet seen a production I haven’t adored – their combination of serious singing quality, and absolutely down-to-earth shoestring approach, makes a night at Fulham Opera an uniquely unpretentious and delightful experience. Go, go, and go again.
Opera Up Close were based at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington for many years, but moved out in February 2015: they’ll be performing at the Soho Theatre in London, as well as touring a whole selection of other venues. I find their work can be a mixed bag, but sometimes it can be incredibly moving; always worth the trip.