Stuart Pendred is a man on a mission. After thirty years in showbiz – during which he has worked in television, radio, theatre, musical theatre and opera – he decided to launch his own opera company.

This was to be no ordinary opera company, though – this would be one with a commitment to engaging with the community and creating opportunities for local talent, while at the same time putting on productions featuring outstanding professional performers.

And so, in March this year, the Oxford Opera Company was born, with opera stars Susan Bullock (soprano) and Richard Berkeley-Steele (tenor) as patrons.

“I moved here 10 years ago when I got married, and the first thing that struck me was that there wasn’t an opera company in a city of this standing,” Stuart tells me.

“Oxford deserves its own opera company. Oxford University is the number one university in the world, apparently, so why can’t the city have one of the best opera companies?

“I want the company to be something that is city-based and city-focused, really gives opportunities and draws on the potential the city’s got, especially within the schools.”

To prove the point, Stuart launched the company with a concert performance of Tosca, which featured singers from St Hilda’s College, Cherwell School and the Music Box children’s choir alongside the Oxford Chamber Orchestra and a cast of world-class professionals, including soprano Lee Bisset in the title role, Stephen Aviss as Cavaradossi and Stuart himself as Scarpia.

“We had a chorus of 40 of the local community, and 35 per cent of the audience had never been to an opera before,” says Stuart. “And it was sold out. So I genuinely think there’s a niche for it.


“There’s something special about the city and there is such a wealth of talent here that needs to be tapped into right across the social strata. I feel very strongly about this.

“I love the idea of students who are studying at one of the colleges rubbing shoulders with kids from Blackbird Leys, because I think that will be healthy for both of them.”

The company’s next production will be a fully-staged performance of Carmen, which takes place at the Oxford Playhouse in March with mezzo-soprano Hannah Pedley singing the title role.

First, though, the company is launching a Friends of Oxford Opera scheme at the Oxford Playhouse on November 11.

The event – for which there are limited places – celebrates the company’s inaugural production while looking ahead to the next.

Cherwell School student Emily Coatsworth, who played the shepherd boy in Tosca, will sing the shepherd boy’s song, while mezzo-soprano Hannah Pedley will sing an excerpt from Carmen. Emily is also the first recipient of the Michael Pendred Oxford Opera award, which Stuart set up in memory of his father.

“I think opera is a most extraordinary art form,” says Stuart. “My mission is also about demystifying it. It’s about creating opportunities within a creative field. This is just the start of something new and exciting for the city.”

Friends of Oxford Opera Launch, Oxford Playhouse, Sunday, November 11, 4-6pm. To book, email