Flat Pack Opera - the Wirral-based company bringing opera to the masses

A reivial performance of Cosi Fan Tutte

A reivial performance of Cosi Fan Tutte - Credit: Archant

Opera has something of a reputation for being elitist, but a small Wirral-based company is showing that it can be for everyone.

The final scene of La Boheme

The final scene of La Boheme - Credit: Archant

Dramatic, thrilling and emotional – just a few words that come to mind when you think of opera. This type of musical theatre can come with an elitist stigma, however, and that means some people turn a deaf ear.

But Flat Pack Opera, a small Wirral-based company, set up by Joseph Buckmaster and Heather Heighway, is focusing on bringing the beauty of the opera to everyone by making it more affordable and accessible. ‘What’s ironic is that opera has a reputation for being only for the rich when it actually started as the people’s art,’ Joseph said.

Their shared love for musical storytelling is contagious and their passion for the art form is why in just over two years they have showcased more than 15 performances.

‘We love opera because of the story-telling and drama which, combined with beautiful music and talented acting, can be incredibly powerful. Stories range from the fantastical to the everyday, full of comedy, beauty and love,’ he added. ‘There’s a range of human emotions that can be expressed through operatic storytelling and that’s what people can relate to.’

A Cosi Fan Tutte performance

A Cosi Fan Tutte performance - Credit: Archant

Joseph, originally from Chester, began his love affair with music aged six when he sang in the Cathedral Choir, continuing until he was 24. But his passion for opera reached its peak when he was performing in the chorus at the Royal Northern College of Music.

Embracing this new experience made him seek out performances at The Lowry by groups such as Opera North. Heather, originally from the Wirral, grew up performing in musicals and singing in the Chester Music Society Youth Choir.

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Now, it’s their joint aim to bring the joy of opera to the masses. So far, they have performed in Merseyside, Sunderland and Rhyl, bringing affordable opera to places where it isn’t usually shown.

Heather said: ‘We believe opera can be performed anywhere. Our aim is to create ideas that can travel to lots of different styles of venues. We’ve performed in art galleries, churches and even in breweries!

La Boheme performance in Rhyl

La Boheme performance in Rhyl - Credit: Archant

‘Our focus is on the music and the drama rather than huge set designs – though we do appreciate those. Of course, we fully stage and costume the shows and have scenery but all of this can be easy to move and put up in different places – hence the name, Flat Pack Music – Unpacking Opera Everywhere.’

And they’re also aware of how hard it is to get stage and role experience in the North so they aim to give local singers a chance to gain that experience.

They both take a strong role in organising these productions as well as occasionally starring in them.

‘I have the hard task of organising the budget and making sure everyone is in the right place at the right time,’ Heather laughs. ‘But I will also be playing Pamina in The Magic Flute.’ Mozart’s classic is their summer performance which they will be touring.

But how do they select the right productions? ‘This is something we think long and hard about,’ said Joseph. ‘It really boils down to some key factors. We look at the music, the story and the setting.

‘But the most important thing we look at is audience enjoyment. Will they connect with it and enjoy the story? There has to be something for everyone.’

‘We also want to make sure that we, as a cast, enjoy performing it,’ Heather said. ‘If you aren’t, the audience picks up on that. We want the audience and participants to enjoy it in equal measure.’

They aim to make sure that it attracts a wide array of audiences. One example of this was their first production of Cosi Fan Tutte, an opera about the fickleness of relationships and a wager that goes wrong. But this version was set in modern day Essex, in a coffee bar called FiDo’s – short for Fiordiligi and Dorabella’s who are characters in the opera.

Flat Pack Opera are also focusing on bringing music back to local communities, by providing choral performances and are currently in the process of setting up a regular community chorus that will perform with them in concerts and operas.

For this small business, the future is looking hopeful and their passion for this genre burns brightly. ‘We want to bring music to people to enrich their lives through watching, listening and participating,’ said Joseph.

Their aspiration is to become one of the primary small independent opera companies, bringing it to music lovers all over the country with a fresh image for new audiences.

‘There is a lot of beautiful music, wonderful stories and fabulous singers out there that need to be heard. We want to share the beauty of this genre but if the audience isn’t enticed and convinced to give it a try, this art form will die out.’

If you love opera or fancy giving it a try, then catch one of Flat Pack Opera’s performances and see why people love this moving musical genre.

For performances go to facebook.com/FlatPackMusic