Rogue Opera

Rogue Opera

Rogue Opera

Rogue Opera strips away the “pomp and pageantry of opera” with performances in unusual locations. And it’s now coming to Wandsworth Arts Fringe in June….

By Ellie Holmes

Bronwen Stephens-Harding created Rogue Opera in 2018, having loved opera from a young age. She saw that her background in marketing and her passion for music could be combined so that she could help opera reach a wider audience. Rogue Opera has gone on to perform in a whole host of locations including beer gardens and stately homes and for corporate events. Bronwen tells us more…

When we think of opera, people think of large scale productions, with orchestras, and huge casts. Can opera work on an intimate level?

The big experience of opera in a theatre with a full orchestra and chorus is amazing but it’s very expensive and it limits the number of people who can afford to see it. In a more compact format we can tour and take it to more people. We do a collaboration with Fuller’s which is ‘Opera in the pub garden’ so people can come to their local pub and enjoy an evening of opera, which gives them a way into this art form. We can deliver an amazing piece of opera with four singers and our wonderful pianist Guy Murgatroyd. There is such a thrill of seeing someone who has never been to opera before come away saying: “I thought opera was stuffy and boring, but I really loved it. It was funny, it was engaging, it made me cry and it made me care about the characters.” My real passion is to bring opera to people who haven’t had the chance to experience it before and tell the amazing stories opera has to offer.

When you sing the operas, are they in their original languages and how do you relay the stories and meaning to people? Do children come to your performances?

We sing the operas in their original languages with English sur-titles to convey the meaning of the story. We do have children at our regular performances, we had our youngest audience member last year who was six-years-old. He loved it so much, he came up to us at the interval and asked if he could be in the show. So we got him involved in some acting and it was fantastic to see his excitement and involvement. We have just done our first bespoke ‘Concertini’ for children from babies up to eight-years-old in Maidenhead. It was fascinating, the children were blown away by the music and voices.

Which opera do you get asked to include in your productions the most?

Probably one of the most popular ones is Carmen, by Bizet. I am a mezzo- soprano, so it’s suited to my range and I also love it. The Mozart operas are quite popular, and a couple of years ago we did a production of Don Giovanni as part of Wandsworth Arts Fringe where we reset it into modern day Milan Fashion Week. That gave us scope to play with the themes of power and manipulation in a modern context which went down well. Also in association with WAF we went into schools and did some workshops with the kids – they learned and listened to some of the music and we had discussions about the characters.

What do you feel opera can give to communities?

Sharing the experience of a live performance is something that cannot be beaten. During the pandemic I did a lot of live streaming online, we didn’t enjoy it, and the audiences were there but the connection wasn’t the same. It is so much better to experience music live, it can take you out of yourself and you can experience deeper emotions. Art helps people bond and live their emotions in technicolour – that’s what performance and theatre is all about.

Where can people find you this summer?

My first production of Carmen premiered at Wandsworth Arts Fringe a few years ago and we are excited to be there again this year. We will be doing an outdoor performance on 11 June at the Nine Elms Pavilion, which will be a free performance that people can come and enjoy. There will also be a ticketed performance at World Heart Beat at Embassy Gardens on 11 June: Lovers, Losers and Larrikins will bring the characters and music of opera’s big hits and hidden gems to life. Wandsworth Arts Fringe has been integral to my vision of bringing opera to people in their local area. During the Fringe there are hundreds of artists at wonderful venues and I’m honoured that Rogue Opera is one of them.

Main image: Rogue Opera performing at the Time & Leisure Food and Culture Awards.

Wandsworth Arts Fringe runs 9 to 25 June. Here’s what to expect.

For more information on Wandsworth Arts Fringe