‘I find it hard to put into words what I love about opera. It’s the immensity of what the singers can physically do, the hard-earned skill of everyone involved, and ultimately the absolute throat-grabbing, hair-raising raw emotion of it all.’
Beth Hoare-Barnes is the Company Manager at Opera Holland Park, and has been since 2018. We sat down with her to talk about what company management is all about, the community at OHP, and the challenge of managing over 100 singers in a summer.
Can you tell us about your role this year at OHP?
The role of Company Manager is an interesting mix of logistics and scheduling and pastoral care of the performing and backstage companies. In the last week I have arranged first aid courses, created and sent various rehearsal schedules to three different companies, and put together a folder of pertinent information for our Stage Management teams. Over the whole season, Markella Syrri (Assistant CM) and I are on hand on phone or email during rehearsals, and in person whenever there are companies onsite. We pull various and varied threads together, anything from asking singers if they can ride a bike, alerting the wigs department to someone running late for their call, helping prepare for a cover to perform, making sure stage management have everything they need, and passing round spray bottles of iced water in hot weather! The office door is always open and we usually have snacks.
How did you get into company management?
I started out in stage management, primarily in site-specific, installation and outdoor work. My first opera job was with Aldeburgh Music, company stage managing a promenade piece around Thorpeness – which came about through a connection with an installation-based theatre company. I then CSM’d a few more bigger projects with Aldeburgh Music (Grimes on the Beach was a beast), and from there stepped across into Company Management of opera. Not honestly something I had aimed for, but I’m very happy to be here.
What are the biggest challenges of your role?
Maintaining the duck-like demeanour can sometimes be quite challenging. You know, the top half being calm, collected and approachable whilst underneath, the mechanics are moving 19 to the dozen. And doing this across the 100 or so singers across a season.
How does your role change and develop from pre-rehearsals to rehearsals and then into the season?
In the pre-rehearsal period, I’m very much more of an administrator, and acting proactively. I work closely with the producers to make sure we have everything in place, and I ‘translate’ schedules and information from the creatives (conductor, director, designer) for the singers, and act as conduit between the two. Once we are in rehearsals it’s lovely to be able to visit the room to greet old friends, and meet new faces. This point of the process is a helpful transition into the stage rehearsals and performance runs, when the role becomes more reactive and a lot more pastoral.
As Company Manager, what is your working relationship like with cast and creative teams in a production?
We are fortunate that we are a close knit group at OHP. So many people return time and time again, and it’s great to build on relationships year on year. But there is a balance to be struck, between being the friendly and approachable face, the support that a company member might seek for whatever reason, and ensuring that everything is running as it should and taking necessary steps if it’s not. It can be hard to take someone aside to discuss their time keeping, or to tell a director that a rehearsal request cannot be met. I work to remind myself that if all conversations are relaxed and professional, I have no barriers to having open and constructive conversations with anyone in the company. That’s not to say we don’t all enjoy a lot of laughs together over the 5 months – we certainly do that!
Is there something that you particularly enjoy about working on opera, in comparison to other art forms?
I find it hard to put into words what I love about opera. It’s the immensity of what the singers can physically do, the hard-earned skill of everyone involved, and ultimately the absolute throat-grabbing, hair-raising raw emotion of it all. My favourite bit of the whole process is the Sitzprobe, which is the first time we hear the singers with the orchestra. It never fails to give me goosebumps.
What is the atmosphere like backstage during the show?
Usually very good. Relaxed and comfortable. On occasions too hot, or too cold. But we’re all at close quarters which I think makes for a sense of camaraderie and community. The chorus are right there next to the maestro and lead soprano and tenor. There is no choice but to get along!
What have you enjoyed most this season?
Opening night of the season is always a highlight for me. A great sense of achievement for everyone, and the first time we have a paying audience in, reminding us why we’re all doing what we do. Of course a big source of excitement this season is our new opera Itch. I have never worked on a brand new opera before, and I’ve loved seeing the long process come to fruition.
What is one piece of advice you’ve been given that has stuck with you?
Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it won’t get you anywhere.
Interview by Lucy Hicks Beach