About Dorset Opera

It all began with a production of Smetana’s opera, The Bartered Bride, in September 1974 at Sherborne School. Patrick Shelley and Robert Glen, members of the staff at the School, put together a team of professional soloists and orchestra, and an amateur chorus led by Augusta Miller and a backstage crew of local young people, and although the venture made a heavy financial loss it was in every other way such a success that it begged to be repeated.

‘Consistently on a par with the UK’s five main opera companies’ Opera Now

In 1976 Dorset Opera was registered as a charity with the object of presenting opera with professional soloists and orchestra, and at the same time giving large numbers of young people the opportunity to take part in the chorus and other production roles. Since then an opera has been performed very nearly every summer (Covid saw us off in 2020!) to much critical acclaim. For many young people this has been their first exposure to fully staged opera and is frequently the beginning of a lifelong passion.

The Audiences

There is a great demand for opera in Dorset. Mainstream companies infrequently tour to Bristol and Southampton, and limited productions by lesser touring companies pass through Yeovil and Poole. While some of these performances are of undoubted high quality, opera-goers in Dorset want more.

Our audience’s enthusiasm for Dorset Opera is legendary. To have high quality opera on their doorstep, performed and produced largely by people of their own community, is a rare treat and the performances are invariably sold out.

Dorset Opera Festival, held each glorious July, is such a high point in the calendar that many take advantage of the long, warm summer evenings and the beautiful grounds, to picnic during the intervals. Others (especially our corporate supporters) plan to enjoy our champagne receptions and four/five-course opera dinners, served in the elegant staterooms of Bryanston House. Each performance becomes a memorable occasion, leading to the Dorset Opera Festival being dubbed, ‘The Glyndebourne of the South West’.

Roderick Kennedy, Artistic Director

The Team

Key to Dorset Opera’s outstanding success is its judicious mix of highly experienced professionals, college graduates and amateurs. Artistic Director, Roderick Kennedy, chooses professional soloists from within the UK and abroad, some of whom already have illustrious international careers; some who are on the cusp of a great career, and others who are newcomers and for whom the experience of singing with the Dorset Opera Festival has been significant in furthering their ambitions. The outstandingly high calibre of our orchestra attracts quality musicians from major orchestras across the UK.

The company also benefits greatly from the expertise of qualified and committed professionals – conductors, chorus masters, choreographers, directors, set and lighting designers, and costume designers – all working alongside [and inspiring] an enthusiastic team of amateurs and volunteers.

Meeting The Costs

The costs of putting on a first class opera to the standard now expected of us (by chorus and public alike) are considerable. This is in spite of the fact that our soloists are content to accept fees well below the norm and that all our administrative work is unpaid. While some of the production costs are met by ticket sales and a small percentage of the fee paid by our amateur chorus, we invariably have to find about 45% from voluntary sources.

The Friends of Dorset Opera regularly contribute in excess of £25,000 per year and we gratefully acknowledge an occasional grant from Arts Council England. Otherwise, we rely almost entirely on the generosity of corporate supporters, grant-making trusts and our loyal Patrons, to whom we are very much indebted.

Would you consider supporting us?

From £40 a year you could be a Friend of Dorset Opera. The Friends run a separate charity whose sole aim is to support Dorset Opera. If you would enjoy supporting us at a higher level, from £300 a year you can become a Patron. If you care to help by making a grant or donation, or would like more information on how to do so, please let us know via our contact page.

Read more about becoming a Patron or Friend