As the company that pioneered the 15-minute opera form, and scored a world first by staging an opera inside a zorb ball, Tête à Tête has always been at the cutting edge. For its 2009 festival, one of its strands, Lite Bites, will take place in streets, Tube stations and local parks.
According to the artistic director Bill Bankes-Jones, these mini operas may point the way forward: "It's a bit like Nasa, really. You go off on adventures, and you don't know what the by-products are going to be. But with such a body of work, you can be sure discoveries will be made, and things will live on – and with us they often have." He's premiering 30 new works this year, all of which have had their gestation in the 21st century. This represents more original contemporary work than the combined output of all the big national companies put together.
His favourite to date has been the show they "staged" in the window of the Riverside Studios' cloakroom. "The performers were crammed into this tiny little proscenium, about one yard wide. This sort of thing peels away any pretensions you might have had – you just do the piece, and anyone who happens to be passing enjoys it. It loosened up our thinking no end. One virtue of this approach is that if people don't like any particular show, another will be along soon."
They're staging full-length works, too, notably a brother-and-sister autobiographical piece by the composer Errollyn Wallen and her jazz-trumpeter brother Byron, and a medieval fantasy starring the mezzo Loré Lixenberg, described as being like Alan Bennett's Talking Heads meeting The Exorcist.
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