English Opera Group

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The English Opera Group was a small company of British musicians formed in 1947 by the composer Benjamin Britten (along with John Piper, Eric Crozier and Anne Wood) for the purpose of presenting his and other, primarily British, composers' operatic works. The group later expanded to present larger-scale works, and was renamed the English Music Theatre Company. The organisation produced its last opera and ceased to run in 1980.

English Opera Group[edit]

Fleeing internal politics at Sadler's Wells Opera at the end of 1945, Britten and singers Joan Cross, Anne Wood, and Peter Pears joined with designer Piper and producer Crozier to found the English Opera Group.[1] The new company's goal was to première Britten's operas, and to present other, mostly British, small-scale operas.[2] The company's first project was to première Britten's chamber opera Albert Herring and give further performances of his opera The Rape of Lucretia during a tour of British and continental European venues. It also commissioned and premièred a new piece by Lennox Berkeley, a setting of the Stabat Mater. Despite heavy subsidies, however, the costs of touring could not be recouped, so Britten and the group's other directors decided that it should be based at a home venue. This was the prime reason for the inauguration of the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948.[2][3]

The first opera commissioned by the group, Brian Easdale's The Sleeping Children, was premièred in 1951.[4] It gave the North American première of Britten's The Turn of the Screw at Canada's Stratford Festival in 1957.[5] Aside from other new works by Britten, the group commissioned and produced eleven other new operas by British composers. It also gave the British première of Francis Poulenc's opera Les mamelles de Tirésias in 1958. The group also performed older operas, such as Acis and Galatea, The Beggar's Opera, Idomeneo, Iolanta, La rondine and Trial by Jury, and works by Henry Purcell and Gustav Holst.[2]

The Royal Opera, London took over management of the group in 1961. In 1971 Steuart Bedford was appointed musical director, and Colin Graham became director of productions.[3]

English Music Theatre Company[edit]

In 1975 the group was enlarged to be able to produce works such as operettas and musicals in addition to opera. As well as appearing at festivals such as Aldeburgh, the company undertook regional tours and yearly performance seasons at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. The founder and leader of the company was Colin Graham. One of their 1976 productions was The Threepenny Opera by Kurt Weill, conducted by the young Simon Rattle.[6] After a final production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1980, the company was disbanded.[3]

Operas premiered (not including Britten's)[edit]

English Music Theatre Company[edit]

Year Opera Composer
1976   Tom Jones Stephen Oliver
1978 La Cubana Hans Werner Henze (written 1973)
Transformations Conrad Susa
1979 An Actor's Revenge   Minoru Miki

Prominent former members[edit]



  1. ^ Gilbert, p. 107
  2. ^ a b c Rosenthal, Harold. English Opera Group in Sadie, vol. 2, p. 52
  3. ^ a b c Britten-Pears Foundation. The English Opera Group and English Music Theatre Company archive. Accessed 9 June 2011
  4. ^ 'Brian Easdale', Jennifervyvyan.org
  5. ^ J. Alan B. Somerset. 1991. The Stratford Festival Story, 1st edition. Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-27804-4
  6. ^ In the same season the company also presented Paul Bunyan, The Turn of the Screw, Cinderella and La finta giardiniera (under the title of Sandrina's Secret), all conducted by Steuart Bedford. See "London Diary for October", The Musical Times, September 1976, p. 792. (subscription required).


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