THE STORY SO FAR
The company's founding father
Stanley Opera came into being in 1972 when one of the founding members of the Hinckley Community Guild, originally an umbrella organisation promoting the arts in the town during and after the second world war, fulfilled a lifelong ambition and formed his own opera company. Alec Stanley, a retired local headteacher, was already 69 when the newly-opened Concordia Theatre gave him the opportunity and this was where he went on to conduct five of Stanley Opera's first productions: The Marriage of Figaro (1973), The Magic Flute (1974), La Traviata (1975), La Bohème (1976) and Carmen (1977). The last of these shows, staged for the opening of the Queen's Jubilee celebrations in Hinckley, sold out and several members of the company went on to careers in professional opera.
The 1980s and 1990s saw the company consolidating its place in the theatre with notable successes, including the British amateur premiere of Puccini's La Rondine (1982) and highly-regarded productions of Madam Butterfly (1989) and La Traviata (1992). But attracting audiences had always been a challenge and, when Stanley Opera came perilously close to extinction in the mid- to late-nineties, only the persistence and ingenuity of the then chairman Ian Rogerson kept the company afloat.
A steady improvement in the company's fortunes took place early in the new century when an influx of new singers and an expansion of the Stanley Opera chorus under the musical direction of Janet Ward brought larger audiences for productions of Aida (2003), The Marriage of Figaro (2006) and Carmen (2007).
In 2009 the company won lottery funding to stage the first Hinckley Opera Festival in several venues across the town. Events included a week of lunchtime recitals, an Opera Masterclass, a Come and Sing Carmen and the Hinckley premiere of Mozart's Così fan tutte. A second festival in 2011, funded this time by Arts Council England, featured five recitals, a Come and Sing Mikado, the company's first production of Verdi's Rigoletto and the Festival Opera Bus, a 1920s charabanc taking singers out to locations in Leicestershire and Warwickshire. Both festivals brought some financial security and gave the company the impetus to stage other operas previously unperformed in the town.
This company policy resulted in the Concordia premieres of Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor (2012), Verdi's Macbeth (2013), Rossini's The Barber of Seville (2014) and Cinderella, Rossini's La Cenerentola (2018).
The third Hinckley Opera Festival – again with Arts Council funding and featuring schools workshops, vocal masterclasses, a week of lunchtime recitals, another Come and Sing event, the company's festival production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and a celebrity evening starring the Welsh tenor Wynne Evans – was successfully staged in April 2019.
Since its inception, the company has always looked to take music on the road in concerts tailored to particular venues, a policy that continues to this day. Stanley Opera staged Music for a Summer's Evening in the grounds of Bosworth Hall Hotel as part of the Market Bosworth Festival in June 2015, performed in concert for the first time at the Little Theatre in Leicester in 2016 and at the city's medieval Guildhall the following year, while continuing its commitment to staging opera at its home theatre in Hinckley. Plans for further concert performances in new venues are currently under consideration.
While these are certainly challenging times for all opera companies, Stanley Opera – now in its 47th consecutive year at the Concordia Theatre – looks forward to building upon its strong foundations and continuing to stage high quality productions every spring.