Being part of the ‘changing face of opera’

by Carly Hegenbarth at Birmingham Opera Company


Birmingham Opera Company’s ‘The Ice Break’ production and associated workshops (2015) challenged my perception about what opera is and could achieve. This Cultural Internship is an exciting and unique opportunity for me to work for an organisation that’s core values are about social justice and widening participation in the arts while at the same time maintaining an impressive artistic output that is recognised internationally; all of which are remarkable achievements for a small team.

I recently submitted a PhD in History of Art, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), in which I analysed a body of satirical prints from 1820s Great Britain about civil liberty and religious difference. Alongside research, teaching and delivering conference papers, I devised and delivered workshops which included outreach and widening participation events for audiences new to History of Art and University, and sat on the committee of the Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage (Library of Birmingham). For the latter group, I devised and co-project managed a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) oral histories project, Digbeth Speaks (2012-13) which was nominated for a National Lottery Award 2014 and remains a HLF regional case study.

My role at Birmingham Opera Company (BOC) will be to develop a heritage aspect to the fundraising activity that BOC does. I’m also really looking forward to getting to grips with the ‘live’, performance aspect to the participation work that BOC does so well in the run up to the main production in March 2016 which will be a new experience for me.

Performance of the ‘Waiter’s Revenge’ at BMAG tea rooms at the Birmingham Weekender
Performance of the ‘Waiter’s Revenge’ at BMAG tea rooms at the Birmingham Weekender

From Stirchley Baths to the House of Lords’ River Room: my first month at Birmingham Opera Company

In the last few weeks I have walked through the corridors of a 100 year old Bath house in the Birmingham suburb of Stirchley before it opens to the public after renovation and those leading to the River Room in the House of Lords. These two experiences mark the culmination of one aspect of my internship and the start of the next.

Keel Watson’s performances blew me away    

I couldn’t resist a River Room selfie…

My time at Birmingham Opera Company (BOC) began with the prep for the launch of BOC’s Crowdfunder (which provides an opportunity to become a Friend, Patron, Donor, Benefactor or Champion of BOC and support the outstanding work of such a unique company, see: ( and a reception at the House of Lords hosted by Baroness Thornton. For the latter, I created name labels and rewards tables, compiled information packs, guest lists and invitations. I was kindly invited to attend the event itself which was a unique experience and a somewhat surreal end to my first month at Birmingham Opera Company (BOC).

For January, I am organising two performances at the official opening of the Stirchley Baths. Built in 1910 and closed in 1988, the Baths are nearing the end of a process of redevelopment funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to become a community hub ( I attended a district Arts Forum meeting and was lucky to have a sneak peak at the progress of the development. This is an especially exciting opportunity for me because I live just a few minutes walk from the Baths!

Related to this project with the Baths, the last few weeks I have been developing a heritage strategy document for BOC. This has included reading BOC’s business plan and reports and Heritage Lottery Fund strategy documents and funding guidelines. It is still a work in progress and my next step is to think through how this might lead to some small scale, practical outputs that can function as test cases.

I’ve also done a number of other tasks, such as research into two different rehearsal venues to assess the feasibility of the options we had (comparing the size, accessibility, travel links and price). I’ve also fitted in time to read some industry magazines and The Stage newspaper, while trying not to get too distracted by the killer view from my desk in the lovely Jewellery Quarter…

18th November image 1            

Since starting at BOC I also successfully defended my PhD thesis which I passed with minor corrections. In an interesting twist, Birmingham Opera Company’s next production is Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) Dido and Aeneas. The opera, first performed in 1689, can be understood as a response to the political and religious upheavals resulting from the Glorious Revolution (1688) which was a feature of a lot of my PhD research. It seems that there is more synergy between the last few years of my career and the next 6 months than I had anticipated initially…

Next, things will crank up a gear in preparation for Dido and Aeneas. I am going to have responsibility for a number of tasks in the run up to the main production, including coordinating ‘taster’ workshops and participation events for groups across the ten districts of Birmingham. I’ll also be involved with recruiting Arts Awards participants, researching venues and forthcoming projects, and preparing copies of the Dido and Aeneas scores.

Birmingham Opera Company is ‘changing the face of opera’ and it’s great to be a part of it.



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