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The history of RNCM Opera’s iconic productions since 1972

Embark on a journey through the captivating history of RNCM Opera, where groundbreaking productions, majestic stagings, and international acclaim have woven a rich tapestry of Manchester's operatic legacy.

Established in 1972, RNCM was envisioned not only as an esteemed music institution but as Manchester’s very own opera company.

Since 1972, RNCM Opera has presented a series of legendary productions that have left a massive mark on the history of Opera.

The RNCM is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading training centres for opera.

And with it being on your doorstep in Manchester, there’s never been a better time to get stuck in and try something a bit different.

Because variety is the spice of life, right?


The world’s first public opera house, the Teatro di San Cassiano, opened in Venice in 1637.

And if something has been so popular for so long, you know you’re on to a winner.

Since its inception, RNCM Opera has been synonymous with groundbreaking productions and a commitment to nurturing extraordinary talent.

The institution’s purpose-built theatre has witnessed the evolution of operatic masterpieces, thanks to the most advanced singers receiving a concentrated period of study.

Distinguished vocal tutors and coaches at RNCM provide the highest level of tuition, shaping the future voices of the operatic world.

Notably, RNCM’s stage has been graced by music staff and conductors from the UK’s major opera companies and esteemed visiting artists, contributing to the development of singers capable of taking on principal roles in opera houses worldwide.

Let’s take a moment to look back on some of their epic productions over the years:

1973: A Pioneering Tour to Sadler’s Wells

In its second year, RNCM Opera embarked on a groundbreaking journey, taking its productions beyond Manchester’s borders.

The repertoire included William Walton’s “The Bear,” Gordon Crosse’s “Purgatory,” Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and Anthony Besch’s fresh interpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress.”

This tour marked the beginning of RNCM’s commitment to bringing opera to diverse audiences.

1974: A Majestic Staging of Aida

RNCM Opera tackled the grandeur of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida” in 1974, defying expectations and showcasing audacious ambition.

Juanita Waterson’s set designs and the sheer scale of the production impressed audiences, including the Duchess of Kent, who attended the opening night.

The inclusion of the Rhos Male Voice Choir, with over 50 voices on stage, added a touch of grandiosity to this memorable rendition.

1977: Stars and Shadows

Chorus master Brian Hughes wrote and conducted “Stars and Shadows,” a compelling opera set in the world of pantomime auditions.

Premiering at RNCM, this production later graced the stage at Sadler’s Wells, showcasing the institution’s prowess in both composition and execution.

1981: The Trumpet Major – A Landmark Commission

RNCM Opera commissioned its first opera, “The Trumpet Major,” composed by Alun Hoddinott.

This marked a significant milestone in the institution’s dedication to fostering new works and supporting contemporary composers.

1987: Manon’s Enchanting Stagecraft

Jules Massenet’s “Manon” received an enchanting interpretation at RNCM, with set designs by Richard Hudson that seemed to defy belief.

Opera North recognised the production’s brilliance and stepped in to heavily subsidise its creation, further solidifying RNCM’s reputation for innovative stagecraft.

1988: Cosi Fan Tutte and the Rise of Amanda Roocroft

Chorley-born Amanda Roocroft, initially a student, graced the RNCM stage in a production of Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte.”

Recognised for her extraordinary potential, Roocroft would go on to become an international opera star, highlighting RNCM’s role in nurturing exceptional talent.

1992: The Pilgrim’s Progress and the Manchester International Festival of Expressionism

The Pilgrim’s Progress

Undeterred by the unconventional nature of Vaughan Williams’ “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” RNCM staged a successful production during the Manchester International Festival of Expressionism.

The festival, directed by RNCM alumnus David Fisk, became a cultural milestone for the city, reaffirming RNCM’s commitment to pushing boundaries and engaging with diverse artistic expressions.

RNCM’s Opera success stories

RNCM’s commitment to nurturing exceptional talent becomes strikingly evident when we look at the remarkable journeys of its alumni on the international stage.

La vie Parisienne (December 2016)

Charlotte Badham played the principal role of Leonie in “La vie Parisienne” and has since performed with Opera Holland Park and Scottish Opera.

Meanwhile, Liam McNally, who was cast as Antoine, has now embarked on an international journey, becoming a member of the Full Time Chorus at the Royal Danish Opera

Theodora (March 2017)

The following year saw Alexandra Lowe and Samantha Clarke take on the principal role of “Theodora”  in “Theodora” at the college.

Alexandra Lowe can now be seen on stage at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, while Samantha Clarke has showcased her talent with The Grange Festival, Opera North, West Australian Opera, and will be making debuts this year with Opera Australia.

Cendrillon (December 2017)


Those in the roles of “La Ciesca” and “Le Roi” in this RNCM production also have made their mark in the opera world.

Daniel Hayes is a member of the Full Time Chorus at the Göteborg Opera, while Michael Gibson is part of the chorus at Glyndebourne Festival.

Hansel and Gretel (March 2018)

The RNCM alumni continued to make waves in 2018. Iain Henderson, who once graced the RNCM stage as the Witch in “Hansel and Gretel,” went on to take a principal roles with Opera Australia. Meanwhile, Daniella Sicari, who played Gretel in the RNCM’s production has now joined the chorus at Bergen Nasjonale Opera.

Suor Angelica / Gianni Schicchi (December 2018)

In 2018, Eliza Boom, assumed the principal role of Nella in “Gianni Schicchi” before becoming a member of the Opera Studio and Ensemble at Bayerische Staatsoper, performing principal roles.

Additionally, Georgia Ellis who played “Ciesca” , also in “Schicchi” has since performed with the chorus at Glyndebourne Festival.

The Pilgrim’s Progress (March 2019)

The international journey continued with Stephanie Maitland, who having graced the RNCM stage as “Madam By-Ends” in The Pilgrim’s Progress, joined the Young Artists Programme at Wiener Staatsoper and debuted a series of principal roles.

Lachlann Lawton, who played Pilgrim at RNCM, became a Wesfarmers Arts Young Artist with West Australian Opera and has gone on to perform principal roles with them as well.

Dialogues des Carmelites (December 2019)

Molly Barker, who played “Madame de Croissy” in the RNCM’s 2019 production has now joined Opera North’s Full-time chorus. Julia Smith, who previously performed as Soeur Constance at RNCM, took on the principal role at the Buxton International Festival.

As RNCM Opera continues to amaze,  the institution stands not just as a powerhouse in the opera world but as a cultural cornerstone in Manchester.

The legacy forged through years of dedication and artistic exploration has transformed RNCM into a celebrated institution with a resonance that will endure for years to come.

For those who have yet to experience the magic of opera, RNCM invites you to be part of something extraordinary.

Let the enchanting productions, the world-class instruction, and the cultural richness of RNCM Opera be your gateway into a realm where every note resonates with passion and every performance is an immersive journey into the heart of storytelling.

Step into the world of RNCM Opera and let the transformative power of opera captivate your senses and ignite your love for this timeless art form.

If you’d like to see what the RNCM has on at the moment, please click here for full listings.

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