My Opera Job - James Bingham

Wednesday, 7 August, 2019
James Bingham

Next up in our My Opera Job series, James Bingham talks to us about his job as Studio and Outreach Producer, how he ended up at INO and what exactly it is he does...

Can you describe your job in a nutshell?

There are two parts to my job:

Firstly, I manage the INO Studio which is a year-long programme that gives training and development opportunities to promising operatic Irish talent. My job involves me deciding what format this training programme should take, who exactly would be ideal for our artists to work with and in what context. I’m also responsible for the logistics of keeping the studio running smoothly.

On top of this, I’m building up a portfolio of outreach work for INO. At INO, we believe that opera is for everyone and we want to share this amazing art form with as many people as we can. I create and facilitate projects that are designed to engage people with opera who may have never thought it was for them. These projects can range from free, specially designed shows to introduce first time adults to the basics of opera (The Deadly World of Opera) to school classes performing new operas they’ve written themselves (Popera).

How did you get to be working in opera?

When I was growing up I never listened to classical music. I thought it was a dead genre that old posh people listened too. Instead I used to front bands at Manchester Students Union. It wasn’t until I joined a choir and heard a professional orchestra for the first time that I realised how extraordinary and varied classical music is. This discovery was so powerful, I decided I would dedicate my career to helping others discover classical music.

I got into opera when I was at music college. I was studying Choral Conducting at the time and so made friends with a good number of singers (and even married one of them!) who were interested in opera. I ended up conducting a community opera about a year later and then got a job working in the education department at Glyndebourne, an opera house in the southern English countryside. Since then I haven’t looked back!

What’s an average day in your job look like?

I’ve only been working for Irish National Opera for about 6 months and so I’ve been meeting with loads of people. I’m very keen to hear what’s going on in Ireland culturally and socially so we can make sure the outreach work we do at INO makes good sense for our communities. I can also frequently be found hanging around the Goethe Institut or the Italian Cultural Institute, who both generously provide spaces for our studio artists to rehearse in.

What’s the most challenging thing about your job?

Knowing where to start! Since I’ve started in Ireland, so many talented artists and interesting organisations have approached us to collaborate. It can be tricky deciding where best INO should focus its resources.

What’s the most fun thing about your job?

Witnessing transformation, whether it’s seeing a studio artist develop their skills over the year or a primary school child wide eyed having heard an opera singer for the first time. It’s so satisfying to see the positive impact opera has on people’s lives.

What’s one thing about your job people mightn’t expect?

I think it’s easy to assume that an administrative role such as mine could theoretically be done by someone without a background in the arts. If I hadn’t worked as an artist in my previous work, I think this job would have been impossible for me to do. It’s a myth to say there’s no work in the arts sector. We need more creative people working in jobs beyond those on stage.

What’s your favourite thing about working in opera?

Even when things go badly in my line of work, I’m safe in the knowledge that I’m trying to make the world a better place in my own small way. I don’t think I could ever give that up.

What’s your least favourite thing about working in opera?

Hearing a lazy, throw-away comment from someone outside of opera about it being ‘elitist’ or ‘posh’. The operatic community have bent over backwards to get away from these tropes. Misguided comments like these mean companies still have to waste time and energy challenging them.

What’s your favourite opera?

Being English, I have an obligation to say that Britten is my all-time favourite composer, but my absolute favourite opera is probably The Cunning Little Vixen by Janáčeck. Just like a dense woodland, it’s a score of lush, beautiful passages alongside some really extraordinary curiosities. It’s like no other opera I know and I’m always in tears by the end.