Report by Kara McKechnie, 8 June 2015

Convenor: Dr Kara McKechnie

Participants: Joe Attard, Emma Black, James Robert Carson, Daniel ??, Evan Kassof, Irene Ros, Caroline Wilkins

Leading questions:

-Which collaborative models exist between opera companies and Higher Education?

-What are the opportunities for transition between the two sectors?

-Which issues do we need to consider to make collaborative ventures successful?

As virtually all participants had connections with both opera and academia, we started the conversation by introducing models of working/ researching across both.

Some examples:

-Collaborative Doctoral Award (AHRC scheme) – a studentship is jointly advertised and supervised by an HE institution and a professional partner. The majority of these are with museums and galleries, but there are a number of them for theatre and opera companies (West Yorks Playhouse 2006 to 2010, Opera North 2007 to present, ROH 2014 onwards et al). The focus of the research should be of mutual benefit to the academic and the professional partners. We discussed these awards from both a student and a supervisor perspective.

-Partnerships between opera companies and HE institutions, for example the DARE Partnership between Opera North and the University of Leeds (2007 to date)

-Students’ professional development and employment benefits from partnerships such as these: internships, placements, work experience and observation. These opportunities have lead to employment in many cases.

-Skills-based exchanges and mentorships between opera companies and conservatoires

-Operatic production and processes as research resource, field work, resource for considerations of contemporary practice – important for degrees with a practice component, e.g. Guildhall’s MA in Opera Making

There are events and spaces inhabited by both opera professionals and researchers (mostly practice-led researchers) and a trend was noted for practice-led research to venture out of the academic environment into ‘industry’; a very welcome development.

Examples included Tete-a-Tete Opera Festival, Bath & St Magnus Festivals, Noise Opera (Glasgow) and various showcases/ forums for young composers.


-The institutions operate on different timescales and often speak different languages. Common ground can be found for the work itself, but efforts have to be put into adapting to institutional speech and other conventions.

-The institutions want different things from collaborative ventures and time/ money pressures can lead to degrees of inflexibility re mutually beneficial relationships and outcomes.

-While opportunities to observe work have enormous benefits, they come with a range of ethical concerns – being watched can affect the rehearsal room dynamics and lead to more effort going into social performance than into the developing performance.

Findings which make connections between the rehearsal room ‘microcosm’ and its surrounding company ‘macrocosm’ can reveal findings the opera company might not be comfortable with.

-Partnerships can be ‘dressed up’ as creating artistic, academic or social impact, when in fact companies are most interested in and in need of economic and financial benefits.

-It was felt that collaborative work could only be initiated on a personal, not an institutional level and that structured collaborations at an institutional level were problematic on several levels.

In summary, academic and operatic organisations were described as ‘atypical bedfellows’, where collaborations had enormous potential for academic and creative enrichment, but obstacles were presented by communication issues, stereotyping in some cases and differing ideas what outcomes and benefits the work should create.

The more specific the artistic/ academic questions asked, the more likely the success of the collaboration.

KMcK, 8 June 2015


partnership, Collaboration, Opera, university, academic, University, collaboration,

Partnership, opera, practice-led research, HE