Alex Reedijk, General Director of Scottish Opera, gave a fascinating “warts and all” talk about the company. Alex joined Scottish Opera in 2006, at a time of financial crisis when the entire 2004 – 05 programme had been suspended. He told us about some of the very challenging and often controversial decisions that had to be taken if Scottish Opera were to survive, never mind thrive. And thrive of course it did, becoming the world class company that it is today. He also explained however that, while there are always financial challenges for any opera company, the current situation is particularly difficult and there are obviously misgivings about what the future holds.
Alex told us something about his own background. He grew up in New Zealand and developed a passion for the performing arts at a very early age. His first job in opera was as a stagehand for New Zealand Opera, and he has worked in opera and festivals across the world, including among other major roles being Executive Director of the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts. He told us a very amusing tale of successfully (ultimately) going round New Zealand with a begging bowl trying to fund a touring opera programme.
Alex talked with passion about Scottish Opera’s work in areas other than the core business of mounting traditional opera performances in major theatres. This includes: work with young people; putting on performances in more remote communities across Scotland; “Breath Cycle” – an innovative approach using singing to help people initially with cystic fibrosis but now also with long covid; and the hugely successful Emerging Artists Programme, supporting young singers at the start of their careers.
The pandemic and consequent lockdown was a particular challenge for Scottish Opera in terms of how to keep some of the work going, while protecting staff performers and audiences from harm and continuing to present across all of Scotland. Alex showed us some wonderful pictures of pop-up productions in fields and car parks, often using converted pantechnicons as a stage.
Alex explained the functions of the various different sites in which the work of the company takes place. This brought out vividly the complexity involved in an opera company ranging from building scenery, designing and making costumes to rehearsals and administrative functions. He shared his plans to consolidate the various sites.
It was a very wide-ranging talk which gave those present a very full appreciation of the work of Scottish Opera and the challenges it still faces.