Dorset Opera Summer School

For 43 years, Dorset Opera has been successfully introducing opera to youngsters of all ages, through what has been termed ‘The world’s foremost residential opera summer school’. We hope you will be interested in being part of the unique ‘Dorset Opera Experience’ in 2017.

You will see in other parts of this website how we bring together soloists of international repute, a full professional orchestra, highly-acclaimed conductors and directors, with a mostly amateur chorus, technical crew and wardrobe department, for our annual summer school and production.

‘The world’s foremost residential opera summer school’ – sing in our chorus or join our technical or wardrobe teams.

If you would like to be a chorus member…

Our chorus usually numbers between 70 and 85 people, ranging in age from 16 to 70. The majority of our participants are under 25 years of age. We encourage singers to join us from across the globe. Over the past few years we have welcomed participants from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Oman, the Philippines, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, the USA and from the United Kingdom of course.

During the Course you will be encouraged and helped by the members of our Artistic Team under the watchful eye of Artistic Director Roderick Kennedy who has a long association with Dorset Opera, having sung principal bass rôles in a quarter of our productions over the last 43 years. He has appeared in over 500 performances at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and manages to run the Dorset Opera Festival alongside his international singing career.

Music Director Jeremy Carnall, took charge of Macbeth this year. After several years as First Kapellmeister at the opera house of St Gallen in Switzerland, he is now in the same post with the renowned Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. 2016 was his ninth season with Dorset Opera. After the huge success of L’elisir d’amore in 2015, David Phipps-Davis returned to direct the Scottish play – which we presented to acknowledge the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin meanwhile was in the extremely capable hands of the Carr brothers: Gavin (conductor) and Paul (director). Fortuitously, they were brought together in these roles for the first time by Un ballo in maschera at the 2015 Dorset Opera Festival.

Nicolas Mansfield couldn’t be with us in 2016, but the excellent Ben Goodson returned. He was responsible for maintaining Nic’s infamous chorus ‘wall of sound’. Our links with the Nederlandse Reisopera remain as strong as ever, and Nic has been keeping an eye on Dorset Opera Festival’s talent, as a Vice President of the organisation.

If you would like to be a member of the technical team, the stage crew or wardrobe…

The ‘Backstage’ elements of the Course include a certain amount of set construction and painting, prop-making, assisting the professional lighting designer or stage management team, costume making and crewing. This will be of particular relevance to those who may be interested in (or students seeking to gain experience in) all aspects of technical theatre. You will be given guidance and instruction by our experienced Technical Director, his assistant, the Set Designer, the Lighting Designer, the Costume Designer and Wardrobe Interpreter, the Stage Managers and their teams. Students from several music and drama colleges will be joining us and opportunities exist in all technical areas mentioned above.

The opportunities we provide for members of the amateur stage crew to develop their skills will be just as rewarding. If you are interested in developing the technical skills you may have learnt backstage earlier – possibly in amateur or in school productions, or should you wish to join the wardrobe, please get in touch via our contact page.

We will as always be recruiting hard for our 2017 productions so if you want to be sure of getting a place do contact us.

The Routine

Check in is at 5.00pm on the evening of Thursday 13th July. There is an enormous amount of work to do so the first chorus music call will take place that evening (following supper and the opportunity to settle into your accommodation).

The principals and stage crew generally arrive earlier. The main elements of the set will be erected in time for stage rehearsals to take place. There is still plenty for the crew to do in the eleven days before the first of the dress rehearsals!

The general work pattern (subject to some changes nearer the time) is one of intensive rehearsals starting at about 10.00am each day. Rehearsals continue throughout the day, interspersed with mid-morning coffee break, lunch, afternoon tea and supper. There will usually be a requirement for further rehearsals after supper – after which there will be an opportunity to relax with some well earned refreshment!

Members of the production staff are all professionals. However, you will also find a considerable number of volunteers are involved in the Dorset Opera Festival itself. The 15 or so ladies of the wardrobe will have been working on the costumes for some months before you arrive, but ensuring that the 175-plus costumes all fit the 80-100 plus chorus and principals, will require expert and rapid last-minute needlework.

(In 2015 there were a total of 1,300 individual costume items). Other volunteers are available to provide any assistance that may be required, and this is centred on the Dorset Opera Festival office where the company manager and her assistants can be found. There is wi-fi Internet access on campus.

Chorus rehearsals are under the guidance of the Chorus Master and his assistant, with help from specialist language coaches. After the initial music calls, production and blocking rehearsals for the principals start immediately. The chorus will join the production rehearsals from the second full day! Directors prefer to hone their work in the rehearsal room, only moving into the theatre for piano dress rehearsals towards the end of the first week. The orchestral runs and dress rehearsals follow, with performances on July 25, 26, 27, 28, along with both matinee and evening performances on Saturday 29 July.

Interspersed with this intensive sequence of rehearsals there are also, of course, a number of planned social events. Depending on the weather and the schedule we always find time for a mid-course party (fancy dress is de rigueur) and there will be an opportunity for members of the company to demonstrate their musical, acting and comedy talents, in the annual cabaret!

The final weekend provides everyone with a well earned opportunity to relax before the final chorus warm up for the last performance – followed by the last-night party. The get-out is on Sunday 30 July, and after general clearing up has finished, it’s sad goodbyes to new-found friends – with promises to keep in touch and “See you next year…!” A superb end to what for all has been a hard-working and exhilarating 17 days.

It appears that staying in touch via Twitter and Facebook and other social-networking sites, takes up the rest of the year!

Whatever your age, but especially if you have experience of singing in your school choir or university choral or opera society and are aged between 16 and 25, and would like to join us, please get in touch via our Contact Page.

The Fees

We believe that our fees are still the lowest of any two-week British summer school – indeed many weekend courses cost a similar amount. The fees cover the cost of accommodation, food, and costumes!

The Course Fees for 2017 have not been agreed yet, the 2016 fees are listed below:

  • Full board: school students (age 18+) – £850
  • Full board: students in full-time education up to age 25 (including gap year) – £850
  • Full board: all others – £975
  • Non-resident: including lunch and dinner on campus (age 16+) – £675

The Technical Course Fees was :

  • Full board: age 18+ – £675

It is recommended that all Technical Students stay on campus.

Application forms (available to download on the Forms & Downloads Page) must be completed and submitted before 31 May 2017. Preference will be given to first-time attendees. A limited number of bursaries available to those of proven financial need.

We do appreciate that for some young people, particularly those about to enter, or who are at, university, the demands on their finances are heavy. We have a limited number of bursaries, details of which are available on request. Some proof of the financial position of applicants will be required, and information will be sought from schools and parents as appropriate.

The Dorset Opera Festival’s annual opera summer school represents extraordinary value for money – a view shared by most of our participants, many of whom return year after year.

We very much look forward to hearing from you.