How Alice became opera's answer to the Sex Pistols

In his latest dispatch, Michael Volpe finds that he's become a rock'n'roll rebel
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The Independent Culture

Amonth of ups and downs with difficulties throughout the production stable. Classic FM turned us into the operatic version of the Sex Pistols by banning us from the station; well, not so much banned but judged our single from the opera Alice's Adventures in Wonderland ("I Flew High in My Dreams") to be "not for them". The rock'n'roll rebel that lurks within us means we prefer to think of it as being banished (well, it never did Johnny Rotten any harm). I am certain that if promoting records was my primary role in life, I would be quite the tyrant and that producers and radio bosses would hate me. Even more than they already do, in fact.

Tickets for Alice went on sale for a few moments but were then gone in a trice and so the "work arounds" have begun, with distant acquaintances miraculously finding our phone numbers. The capacity of the Yucca Lawn (where we are to perform the production) is limited to 150 so inevitably there are lots of unhappy people out there who now shout down the blower at me and demand to be allowed to buy tickets.

We can only draw satisfaction from the desire of children and their families to engage with something a little more challenging than the Tweenies (nothing at all wrong with the Tweenies I must add) and the stadium tour beckons – or at least a second season.

Running parallel to the intensifying work on Alice ("final" vocal scores are now in the hot and sweaty palms of the cast) is the small matter of five major new productions on the main stage and the mammoth build to provide the theatre itself. The variety of issues facing us on a daily basis grows ever broader. Yesterday, amid discussions on sponsorship, marquee linings, lighting rig extensions and bar paint, we talked about cushions for the Alice audience, buggy parks, feedback forms and how best to encourage parents to "toilet" their smaller children before the performances.

At one point, I could have sworn producer James mentioned the designs for the show, but I can't be sure. We can't wait for production rehearsals to begin in a few weeks when we really begin to see life breathed into Alice.

For James, life is dominated by a plethora of issues that fluctuate between taking us to triumph or averting disaster. All festivals are in this position, where catastrophe is lurking at our shoulder almost permanently. We are probably all crisis junkies deep down, bereft without at least some threat constantly in our midst but rarely would we admit it. Perhaps the threat is part of the process; if it were easy, it would be boring, the work less vibrant and we know audiences like to sometimes share in the jeopardy.

As we know, the show does have to go on, not waiting nor pausing for anything, including crushing personal tragedy or crisis, which virtually all of our team have experienced in the past 18 months. Even the death of my brother Matteo a few days ago finds synchronicity with Alice since it is our composer Will Todd's exquisite arrangement of "Amazing Grace" that I wish to be sung at his memorial. Art, song, film – whatever – often signpost major events in all our lives and so for some of us at OHP, Alice will for ever be "the year when...."

We aren't martyrs to our craft, nor soldiers on the battlefield and we would all rather do without the misery, yet in creating another world for others to experience or be enriched by, we often find ourselves setting aside our own. After all, finding a good counter tenor for the Cat waits for no man and I doubt we would have it any other way.

Michael Volpe is general manager of Opera Holland Park. Follow @mikeohp and @aliceoperaohp