The origins of the Festival date back to 1936 when an annual drama festival was held until 1942 in conjunction with the London-based Old Vic Theatre Company. During the early 1970s, it was best known as one of the UK's most prominent rock festivals, with most major rock bands of the day appearing, including Mott The Hoople, The Faces, Lindisfarne, Canned Heat, Chuck Berry, Nazareth, Edgar Broughton Band, Groundhogs, Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Medicine Head, Brewers Droop, Roy Wood and Wizzard. During July 2007, it was the subject of several features on Jeff Cooper's 'Cooper Collection' show on 106.6 Smooth Radio, whose transmission area includes much of Derbyshire.
Inspired to encourage the restoration of the Buxton Opera House, a classic Frank Matcham building, much respected conductor Anthony Hose (then Head of Music at Welsh National Opera) and Malcolm Fraser (then lecturing in opera at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester) saw its potential as a venue for an opera festival. They spent three years planning the first one while restoration was underway. The restored Buxton Opera House was the venue for the first Buxton Festival in 1979 with presentations of Lucia di Lammermoor (in its first ever complete performance in Britain), followed by Peter Maxwell Davies' The Two Fiddlers.
Productions and performers
From these first successes, the Festival has made a significant impact on the operatic culture of Britain with new productions of rarely-performed operas (such as Britten's Let's Make an Opera (1980); Domenico Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto (1981 & 1993); Kodály's Háry János (in its British stage premiere in 1982); Vivaldi's Griselda (1983, but not seen anywhere since its original Venice presentation in 1735); Cherubini's Médée (1984, in its original French dialogue never seen in Britain); and, from 1986, many productions of Handel's operas, as well as many others by Cimarosa (in 1989 it presented three).
Performers of the quality of Thomas Allen, Rosalind Plowright, Jean Rigby, Alan Opie, Nigel Kennedy, Cleo Laine, John Ogdon, Alan Bates, Dame Janet Baker, Victoria de los Ángeles,Dame Margaret Price and Sarah Brightman. The current resident orchestra at the festival (as of 2008[update]) is the Northern Chamber Orchestra.
Since 2002, the Festival has presented five or six operas each summer. In 2006 it presented eight operas ranging from Mozart's early Apollo and Hyacinth to Dmitri Shostakovich's The Nose, but including works by Telemann, Monteverdi, Gluck, Britten and Bizet.
The Buxton Festival Fringe
The Buxton Festival Fringe is an annual open arts festival running at approximately the same time as the Buxton Festival (2013 dates are July 3-21). The festival hosts comedy, theatre, dance, music, street performances, film, performance art, talks and shows for children as well as other impromptu events. The festival celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2009, and that year boasted a record 140 entries with over 500 individual performances. The number of entries has been gradually rising with some 170 in 2013 adding up to nearly 600 individual performances. This makes it one of the largest fully independent Fringes in the United Kingdom, along with Brighton Festival Fringe and Edinburgh Fringe. As well using around fifty venues around the town and outside it, Fringe 2013 includes the professionally managed venue group at Underground Venues. Since 2011 Underground Venues has been programming events at the newly refurbished Pavilion Arts Centre and Studio with Ed Reardon, Isy Suttie and Henning Wehn being among the artists who have featured.
The festival is followed by the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, which runs for three weeks in August each year.