An afternoon spent celebrating the 50th anniversary of Kent Opera's foundation gave plenty of opportunity to reflect on the weird ways in which time passes. The company had only been in existence (touring full-scale productions around the south of England and sometimes further afield) for twenty years when, one day in 1989, all its Arts Council grant was removed in what seems to have been a random cut intended to reassure the Thatcher government. Athough a series of enjoyable smaller events continued for a while, the main company effectively had to close down thirty years ago.
But you wouldn’t have thought so from the animated throng of KO ‘graduates’ gathered in St Martin’s Lightwell on Saturday. Founder Norman Platt (d 2004, pictured) was famous for his discoveries, giving a whole generation their first big chance in opera. Nick Hytner, Jonathan Miller, Richard Jones, Roger Norrington, Ivan Fischer, Felicity Lott, Jonathan Summers, Rosalind Plowright, Sarah Walker, Teresa Cahill; many of them turned up in person to attest to the life-changing actions of this remarkable organisation (and we hope its former audiences felt the same way.) Having written my first two operas for Kent Opera, I now think I wouldn’t have been a composer at all without their interventions.
The good news is that Cesca Eaton has recorded a most cogent documentary about the story of Kent Opera, which can be viewed online. (To save online confusion, there now also appears to exist a new, unrelated, popup Kent Opera, to whom I’m sure we old-timers wish all the very best…)