Archive of the English Opera Group, later the English Music Theatre Company

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive of the English Opera Group and English Music Theatre Company is extensive, providing information on most of the operas produced and people involved, throughout the group's history from 1946 to 1981.

This list covers all types of material present in the collection; however, each opera staged is not represented in every category of material.

BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AGM and COMMITTEES: minutes, correspondence, reports and related papers, 1947-1980

GOVERNANCE: Articles of association (certificate of incorporation), 1947-61

FINANCIAL: accounts 1947-1958, budgets 1973-1980, fundraising 1975-1979

ARTISTS and PERSONNEL: including salaries and fees 1951-1979, contracts 1968-1976, address lists 1963-1975, audition records 1960s-70s, applicants details 1971, biographies 1969-1973, list of artists and agents 1979, artists' files 1973-1977, chorus file 1974-1975, correspondence with Colin Graham 1967-1980, correspondence with Steuart Bedford 1974-1979, name index to staff including singers, conductors, composers, designers, producers, stage managers, music, stage, electrics and wardrobe staff 1947-1981

PRODUCTION SCORES: full scores, vocal scores, chorus scores, rehearsal scores, instrumental parts, librettos. These include annotated and marked scores used for performance by members of the Group and some pre-publication dyelines produced for the works' premieres; these include works by Britten as well as those works commissioned from other composers.

TECHNICAL FILES: including technical schedules, electrics setting, cues and running plots, sound operators plots, stage and sound running plots, lighting plots, lighting cues and running plots, stage and set plans, orchestra pit layouts and furniture marks plans, props running plots, property, scenery, wardrobe and electrical inventories, cast lists, chorus and costume breakdowns, curtain calls and dressing room lists, stage management running lists 1947-1981

WARDROBE FILES: costume designs, costume descriptions, fabric samples, make-up charts 1947-1981

DESIGNS: scenery, set and props designs 1947-1981

FURTHER PRODUCTION FILES: rehearsal schedules 1947-1981, stage manager's time books 1948-1973, stage report sheets 1974-1979, hire and storage file 1969-1981, information and plans for UK tour theatres, cathedrals and churches 1976-1979

SET MODELS: Britten: The Beggar's Opera 1963, Williamson: English Eccentrics 1964, Britten: Let's Make an Opera 1965, Walton: The Bear 1967, Birtwistle: Punch and Judy 1968, Puccini: La Rondine 1974, Britten: A Midsummer Night's Dream n.d.

COSTUMES: approx 53 items c1954-c1970s, including The Governess from Britten's Turn of the Screw 1954, Tarquinius from Britten's The Rape of Lucretia 1960s, Bottom from Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream 1967, and Pretty Polly and Punch from Birtwistle's Punch and Judy 1968, costumes from the first productions of Britten's Church Parables and Death in Venice 1964-1973, Lady Billows from Albert Herring 1974.

OFFICE FILES: correspondence and administrative papers concerning the mounting of individual productions, organisation of tours and festivals, planning of seasons and repertoire, and recordings 1962-1981, files concerning forward planning and future repertoire, including projects not realised, 1972-1980

CORRESPONDENCE FILES: including with BBC 1972-1979, Theatrical Management Association and Theatres National Committee (including minutes) 1975-1980, British Actors Equity Association 1972-1974, Covent Garden-English National Opera Co-ordinating Committee (including minutes) 1975-1976, National Opera Co-ordinating Committee 1979, Arts Council of Great Britain 1974-1980, DALTA (The Arts Council Theatre Touring Scheme, later Touring Department or Arts Council Touring) 1970-1977, Regional Arts Councils 1976-1978, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation 1969-1976, The British Council 1975-1979 and concerning the employment of children 1970-1975

PRESS and PUBLICITY: press reviews 1948-1956, 1958-1960, 1976-1977, press releases and advertisements 1972-1977, press reviews from Danish and Norwegian press Sep 1949, press reviews of Aldeburgh Festival 1948-1968

POSTERS: advertising performances throughout the UK and abroad

PROGRAMMES: for most performances, 1946-1980

PHOTOGRAPHS: of most productions, and of artists and personnel, 1946-1980

ENGLISH OPERA GROUP/ ENGLISH MUSIC THEATRE ASSOCIATION: minutes 1948-1977, financial papers 1965-1971, membership lists, subscription and covenant papers 1955-1980, name index to subscribers recording amounts paid 1948-1977, correspondence 1948-1975, newsletters 1952-1979

MISCELLANEOUS: file re music issued 1975-1980, card index to performances, organised by opera and by venue 1947-1981.

Administrative / Biographical History

Britten's opera The Rape of Lucretia was premiered on 12 July 1946 at Glyndebourne in Sussex with Eric Crozier as the producer and John Piper the designer. Negotiations relating to this production established the 'Glyndebourne English Opera Group', based at Glyndebourne and financially guaranteed by John Christie. Following performances at Glyndebourne, The Rape of Lucretia was extensively toured in the UK and on the continent, to artistic interest but great financial loss. The ensuing tensions with Christie had significant repercussions and by autumn 1946 management and financial links with Glyndebourne had been dissolved and an independent 'English Opera Group' formed. The group was formally launched in spring 1947, with Britten, Piper and Crozier the artistic directors, singer Anne Wood the General Manager, and a prestigious Board of Directors, chaired by the Rt Hon Oliver Lyttelton MP and including Britten's close friend and publisher Erwin Stein and, from late 1947, director Tyrone Guthrie. Learning from the experience of The Rape of Lucretia, the directors focused from the outset on the fundamental role that financial planning had to play at every level, economics controlling aesthetic, artistic and practical plans and goals.

The English Opera Group's manifesto made a bold declaration: 'We believe the time has come when England, which has never had a tradition of native opera, but has always depended on a repertory of foreign works, can create its own operas…We believe the best way to achieve the beginnings of a repertory of English operas is through the creation of a form of opera requiring small resources of singers and players, but suitable for performance in large or small opera houses or theatres…It is part of the Group's purpose to encourage young composers to write for the operatic stage, also to encourage poets and playwrights to tackle the problem of writing libretti in collaboration with composers'.

The new English Opera Group gave the premiere of Britten's second chamber opera Albert Herring, with libretto by Crozier, designs by Piper and tightly scored for just 13 singers and 13 instrumentalists, as guests at Glyndebourne in June 1947, alongside further performances of The Rape of Lucretia. The 51 performances given by the English Opera Group in England and on the continent during that season were heavily subsidized, but the costs of touring even chamber operas were substantial, and the group faced a huge deficit, which was only offset by advances for the following year's projects.

The directors decided to reduce the need for so much touring by creating an artistic base for the English Opera Group in Aldeburgh. The Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts was therefore launched in 1948 and until 1975 the Group's productions were central to the festival programming. The collaborating personnel changed over the years - though notably Britten, Piper, Pears and producers Basil Coleman and Colin Graham were long-time contributors - but the underlying credo remained intact.

In its first months of operation, the English Opera Group initiated its programme in support of new British music by commissioning Lennox Berkeley to write a concert work, the Stabat Mater, op. 28, which was premiered by the Group in 1947. However it was not until 1951 that the English Opera Group began to fulfil its goal of encouraging British composers and writers to 'write for the operatic stage'. In July 1951 at the Cheltenham Festival the Group gave the premiere of its first opera commission, The Sleeping Children, with music by Brian Easdale, in a double bill with a revival of Holst's The Wandering Scholar. Over the next 23 years the English Opera Group commissioned and produced ten further operas for chamber forces with music by British composers: A Dinner Engagement, Ruth and Castaway by Lennox Berkeley, English Eccentrics by Malcolm Williamson, The Bear by William Walton, Punch and Judy by Harrison Birtwistle, The Grace of Todd and Purgatory by Gordon Crosse, The Visitors by John Gardner and The Voice of Ariadne by Thea Musgrave.

The English Opera Group gave the first, and many subsequent, performances of operas written by Britten for the Group, including The Little Sweep, The Turn of the Screw, Noye's Fludde, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Curlew River, The Burning Fiery Furnace, The Prodigal Son and Death in Venice. The Group also mounted revivals of operas by John Blow, Handel, Holst, Monteverdi, Mozart, Puccini, Purcell and Tchaikovsky and presented the first British performance of Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tirésias in 1958.

The group toured widely throughout the UK and on the Continent, performed in the USSR in 1964, and in Montreal during Expo 1967. Many leading British singers regularly appeared with the group, including Janet Baker, Kathleen Ferrier, Heather Harper, Sylvia Fisher, Jennifer Vyvyan, Owen Brannigan, Peter Pears, John Shirley-Quirk and Robert Tear.

In 1961 Covent Garden took over management and financial responsibility for the group and in 1971 Steuart Bedford and Colin Graham were appointed musical director and director of productions respectively. In 1975 the group was expanded and re-formed as the English Music Theatre Company, the change of name reflecting a broadening of repertory to include, as well as operas, operettas and musicals. This permanent ensemble company gave regional tours, an annual season at Sadler's Wells Theatre, and performed at festivals, including Aldeburgh. Its final commission was Minoru Miki's Ada, under the title An Actor's Revenge, performed at the Old Vic in 1979. The company ceased to operate in 1980.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation. Please email enquiries@brittenpears.org to arrange an appointment to visit the reading room or for further queries.

Acquisition Information

The English Music Theatre Company Limited assigned its archive to The Britten-Pears Foundation by an assignment dated 27 Dec 1990, and the papers were transferred from the company's registered office at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden to the Britten-Pears Foundation.

Other Finding Aids

The collection is uncatalogued; however, the scores and librettos are listed on the Britten-Pears Foundation library catalogue.

There is a card index to performances, organised by opera and by venue 1947-1981, and a card name index to staff which includes singers, conductors, composers, designers, producers, stage managers, music, stage, electrics and wardrobe staff 1947-1981.

There are also preliminary lists.

Related Material

In the Britten-Pears Foundation Archive;

Production scores used and annotated by Basil Coleman (collection ref. CLM).

Production scores used and annotated by Colin Graham (collection ref. GHM).

Correspondence between Benjamin Britten and the English Opera Group.