Opera is as much about theatre as it is about music, suggested Adam Spreadbury-Maher at the launch for his new “Little Opera House” at Islington’s King’s Head.  He went on to say how he proposed to restore narrative as a major element in his forthcoming season of works, classic and new.  

Veteran director Jonathan Miller and playwright Mark Ravenhill are set to play key roles, joining Spreadbury-Maher and his co-artistic director Robin Norton-Hale (who directed the company’s successful La boheme).  

The line-up (Miller is patron and Ravenhill an associate director) spoke about their plans at a press conference on the stage of the King's Head prior to the opening of OperaUpClose’s latest production, The Barber of Seville (or Salisbury).

It's the first attempt to open a new opera house in London since Raymond Gubbay’s failed Savoy operation a few years ago.  While intentions are honourable, a number of well-worn myths about the opera world were trotted out by the team (singers can’t act, international stars are only interested in standing and delivering, existing opera audiences are all toffs) and they have to beware of tilting at straw men in their assault on opera conventions.

Plans include a Bangkok ladyboys-inspired Madam Butterfly (which Spreadbury-Maher will direct in December), another Rossini (La Cenerentola, better known as Cinderella) and a brand new operatic treatment of The Picture of Dorian Gray, scored for two laptops and viola.

Further ahead is the intriguing prospect of Miller directing Berg's Lulu and a re-working of Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppaea by Ravenhill.

The move away from theatre (plays will be confined to a few lunchtime performances) is a big one for the King’s Head, allowing Spreadbury-Maher to put his personal stamp on the venue.  

- Simon Thomas