Birmingham Opera Company, which was threatened with closure at the beginning of the year when the Arts Council withdrew its annual grant, won a prestigious award last night.
It was presented with the Audience Development category of the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards – in effect, the Oscars for live classical music in Britain – for its performances of La Traviata at the National Indoor Arena last October.
The production, originally staged by Birmingham Opera’s artistic director Graham Vick for the Arena di Verona, was presented in Birmingham with a large community cast performing alongside professional soloists and the CBSO.
The two performances were seen by nearly 10,000 people – up to 70 per cent were believed to be seeing an opera for the first time, most paying just £5 for their tickets.
The company previously won the same award for its production of Votzek in 2001.
Artistic director Graham Vick, who is directing La Clemenza di Tito in Turin, recorded a video acceptance speech which was shown at the awards ceremony at London’s Dorchester Hotel.
He said: "I am thrilled that the RPS has once again honoured the company with its Audience Development Award. I would like to share this timely vote of confidence in the company’s work with the city and people of Birmingham who so vocally fought for their opera company and to thank the Arts Council for reconsidering its decision to cut our grant."
As part of its controversial review, communicated to clients just before Christmas, the Arts Council proposed to withdraw its regular £324,000 grant to Birmingham Opera because of dissatisfaction with its business model. The company insisted that it would not be able to continue its innovative way of working with professional and community casts on limited project funding.
Following a sustained campaign by the company and a national outcry about the proposed cuts in general, a compromise was reached which saw a resumption of its funding. It will stage Mozart’s Idomeneo in Birmingham in August.
Other organisations which performed in Birmingham over the last year also figured among the prizewinners. Composer James MacMillan won the Opera and Music Theatre award for his opera The Sacrifice, which Welsh National Opera brought to the Hippodrome.
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, named Ensemble of the Year, has recently embarked on a series of three major collaborations with Birmingham choir Ex Cathedra and will perform two Schumann symphonies with Sir Simon Rattle at Symphony Hall in December.
The brilliant young Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel and his Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, who caused a sensation with their vibrant performance at last year’s Proms, won the RPS Music Award for Young Artists.
José Antonio Abreu, the economist and composer who in the early 1970s founded the National System of Children and Youth Orchestras of Venezuela (El Sistema), was given Honorary Membership of the Royal Philharmonic Society – only the 123rd recipient of the honour since it was first bestowed on the composer Carl Maria von Weber in 1826.
Continuing the theme of youth, Edward Gardner, 33 year-old music director of English National Opera, won the RPS Music Award for Conductor.
* Birmingham Opera Company is hosting a free drop-in event at the Custard Factory, Digbeth, between noon and 4pm this Sunday.
The afternoon of activities, arias and workshops is a chance for people to find out more about the company and its forthcoming production of Idomeneo, with a range of special activities including singing and movement workshops.
Graham Vick will be taking part along with soprano Donna Bateman, choreographer Ron Howell and designer Stuart Nunn.