Heritage Opera was founded in 2006 by the conductor Chris Gill, presenting chamber operas in period costume in stately homes across the north of England. The operas were sung either in their original languages with surtitles or in English versions translated especially for the company.
The venues in the first few years were carefully selected for their ambience and intimacy, usually in areas which would not otherwise have benefitted from professional opera performances. Opera Now observed: ‘Gill had gathered together a stylish, homogenous team, with the gifts of intimacy and immediacy that go with compact, even attenuated, forces… perfectly satisfying and involving.’
To celebrate Heritage Opera’s fifth anniversary in 2011, the company launched a successful fundraising appeal to raise over £50,000 for the commission and production of Mansfield Park, based on Jane Austen’s novel, by the composer Jonathan Dove and the librettist Alasdair Middleton. In the same year, the company attained charitable status, Sarah Helsby Hughes was appointed Artistic Director and Nicholas Sales became Company Manager. In 2017, Heritage Opera performed its second world première: The Arsonists by the composer Alan E Williams and the librettist Ian McMillan.
Heritage Opera’s reach has now extended to numerous theatres and other venues across England, Scotland and Wales, including the Grimeborn and Northumberland music festivals. The company has appeared at major stately homes including Chatsworth, Hatfield House and Boughton House. Heritage Opera now has a permanent base in Stafford, including a rehearsal space, office, workshop, props store and wardrobe. The company has introduced a Young Artists’ Programme, successful Passion for Opera concert tours, and the appointment of Benjamin Cox as a regular musical director.
Heritage Opera has performed operas from a wide range of periods, styles and genres, including four of Mozart’s operas: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte and The Magic Flute. The 300-year-old history of English opera has yielded Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Pepusch’s Beggar’s Opera and Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. The Romantic Italian opera tradition has been represented by Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Donizetti’s Elixir of Love, Verdi’s La traviata and Rigoletto; and Puccini’s La bohème, Tosca and Madame Butterfly. French opera has appeared in the form of Carmen. Light opera has not been forgotten: Heritage Opera has performed Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury, HMS Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance, and Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. Even Slavic opera has been given its due, with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and the UK professional première of Poland’s national opera, Moniuszko’s Halka.
Sarah Helsby Hughes
Having completed her studies at the Birmingham Conservatoire, Sarah’s opera performances to date have included the title role Madame Butterfly for Nottingham Festival Opera; Violetta La traviata for New Devon Opera and Chiswick Opera; title role Tosca for Focus Opera; Senta The Flying Dutchman for Focus Opera; title role The Merry Widow for ClassicFEST, Harrogate and Lanzarote; and Elsie Maynard Yeomen of the Guard for the International G&S Festival in Gettysburg, USA. She has also been a member of Carl Rosa Opera and the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. One of many highlights in her time with Heritage was in 2011, when the company commissioned Mansfield Park from the renowned composer Jonathan Dove, in which Sarah created the role of Mary Crawford. Her widespread concert experience includes Wagner’s Wiesendonck Lieder (Italian Tour), Verdi Requiem, Britten’s Phaedra and Mozart Davide Penitente in Haarlem, the Hague and Amsterdam.
Formerly a Quantity Surveyor, Staffordshire-born Nick left the building world behind in 2002, and has enjoyed a rich and varied career ever since. His work has taken him to 42 different countries across 5 continents. He recently made his debut at the Royal Opera House, where he played Leibboyar in Boris Gudonov, a role he will reprise in 2019. His other operatic appearances include Almaviva Il barbiere di Siviglia (Opera North, Longborough Festival Opera), Ferrando Così fan tutte (Komische Oper, Berlin), Mitridate Mitridate, re di Ponto (Welsh National Opera), Don José Carmen (Focus Opera and Nottingham Festival Opera), Italian Tenor Der Rosenkavalier (Oper Halle, Germany) and Don Basilio Le nozze di Figaro (Neville Holt Opera). Modern work includes two world premieres for Heritage Opera: Jonathan Dove's Mansfield Park and Alan Williams's 'Yorkshire Opera' The Arsonists, recorded for BBC Radio 3. An early career highlight came for him in 2003 when he was able to meet and perform for the Three Tenors - Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti, following their concert in Bath.
Serenna Wagner was born in Leeds to Polish-English parents. She studied at the University of Birmingham; the Royal Northern College of Music, gaining distinctions in both her Postgraduate Diploma and Master of Music; and the Opera Works course at English National Opera. She has performed the title role Carmen (Lancashire Sinfonietta); Gypsy The Diary of One who Vanished (Hallé Orchestra); Suzuki Madame Butterfly (Buxton Opera House); the title role in Dido and Aeneas, Rosina The Barber of Seville, Maddalena Rigoletto, Flora La traviata, Prince Orlofsky Die Fledermaus (Heritage Opera); Princess Suor Angelica and Mother Amahl and the Night Visitors (Opera Anywhere), Donna Elvira Don Giovanni (London Chamber Academy Opera); Ida Die Fledermaus (Focus Opera); Cherubino The Marriage of Figaro and Dorabella Così fan tutte (Flatpack Opera and Heritage Opera); and Second Lady/Spirit in The Magic Flute (Opera Anywhere, Opera by Definition and Heritage Opera). She has created principal roles in two world premières: Fanny Price in Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park in 2011 and Paulina in Alan Williams’ The Arsonists in 2017, recorded for BBC Radio 3. She has also appeared in La traviata for Longborough Festival Opera; Amahl and the Night Visitors for Bampton Classical Opera; and The Damnation of Faust, Carmen, The Flying Dutchman, Fidelio, The Magic Flute and Madame Butterfly for English National Opera. Future plans include covering the role of Carmen for Oxford Opera.
Founder and Chairman
Chris gained a Bachelor of Music, specialising in conducting, at the University of Birmingham, and subsequently studied on the Royal Northern College of Music Conducting Course. As a freelance conductor, he has worked with many orchestras, choirs and opera companies, including Lancashire Sinfonietta, Longborough Festival Opera, Grimeborn Festival, Amaretti Chamber Orchestra, the Isis Chamber Orchestra and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. In 2006 he founded Heritage Opera and has conducted over 100 performances with the company. In 2009, He was the choirmaster for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy. He conducted the world première of Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park in 2011. He has worked with soloists such as Alison Balsom (Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto) and Carolyn Sampson (Mozart’s Vespers) and his performances of Handel’s Messiah have been broadcast on BBC 1 and Radio 2. He is Director of Music at Rye St Antony School, Oxford, where in previous years he has conducted Don Giovanni, and The Magic Flute and Cosi fan tutte with Heritage Opera and the Isis Chamber Orchestra. He has also been Musical Director for Dido and Aeneas and Amahl and the Night Visitors at Rye St Antony with the Isis Chamber Orchestra, and The Marriage of Figaro, La boheme and The Magic Flute for Flatpack Music and the Festival Orchestra.