The company was founded in 1990 by the late Dr Roy Budden as an evening class at the Hampstead Garden Institute, and became a charitable trust (registered charity no. 1092649) in 2002. HGO is affiliated to NODA and Barnet Borough Arts Council. Each year it performs two fully-staged operas with orchestra and in English, at ‘Upstairs at the Gatehouse’, a 100-seat community theatre in Highgate, North London, which has been its base since 2001.
All parts are, wherever practicable, double-cast. Principals with small roles will normally be expected to join the chorus on their performing nights, unless there are exceptional circumstances. Since HGO has no regular independent funding, each participating member is asked to make a donation towards the cost of its productions. Members are also expected (within reason) to sell a minimum of 10 tickets each.
As a company we aim to provide opportunities for talented young singers, orchestral players and répétiteurs in the early stages of a professional career to gain on-stage and workshop experience, working creatively alongside loyal amateurs on an equal footing, in a friendly culture, and without the pressures inherent in the world of professional opera.
We have deliberately chosen to be part of the regular programme offered by a small, informal local community theatre, partly in order to attract people who may never have set foot in the big opera houses, and to revolutionise their whole concept of what opera is, and who it is for. In the intimate setting of Upstairs at the Gatehouse, audiences are drawn into the action, and feel the full emotional impact of operas both well-known and unfamiliar in a new and exciting way. We do our utmost to keep our costs and our seat prices well below West End levels, but without subsidies or substantial sponsorship, we still have to rely on ticket sales for around two thirds of our income.
The original intention was to concentrate on the major operas of Mozart, but the repertoire has since expanded to encompass works ranging in period from John Blow and Henry Purcell (late 17th century) to Carlisle Floyd (1954). Latterly, there has been a move away from the big 19th century operas: they are less suited to the voices we are currently attracting; and by and large they need bigger orchestral forces than we can muster.