Interview: Air Miles with Oliver Mears

30 Jun 2021 by Hannah Brandler
Oliver Mears, Director of Opera - Photographed for the ROH by Alun Callender

Oliver Mears is the director of opera at the Royal Opera House in London.

What attracted you to the profession?

Opera is both the total artform that combines all of the others and a place of crazy excess and emotional energy. What could be more exciting than that?

Has the audience at the Royal Opera House changed over the years?

Of course, as society does. It’s becoming more diverse, younger, more open-minded – to complement that wonderful core group coming for decades.

Do you tour any of the productions abroad?

Every few years we go to Japan with the whole company and orchestra. Logistically it’s very challenging but well worth it to present our work in a totally different culture.

What's the best seat in the Royal Opera House?

It depends on what you want to see and hear. Sitting right behind the conductor is a totally unique experience – if you don’t mind some waving arms; high up can give a fabulous view into the pit; the best stage view is probably the Grand Tier but the best acoustic is definitely in the amphitheatre.

Do you have a favourite composer?

[Dmitri] Shostakovich. I love all Russian music, but the drive, the tragedy, the modernity, the humour – few other composers have his range. Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk will always be my favourite opera.

Which performance has left a lasting impression?

I’ll always remember seeing [Lithuanian soprano] Asmik Grigorian in Salome at the Salzburg Festival in 2018. Sheer raw, visceral singing and acting. And even the live horse didn’t upstage her.

What's your favourite opera house abroad?

It would have to be the Komische Oper Berlin. Few other opera houses have so much energy, flair and irreverence.

What has been your most rewarding travel experience?

Any trip to Italy. I’ve been so many times to so many different places there, but each time I find something different. It’s the combination of food, culture, scenery, history, family – they have all of the true essentials of life nailed which is why it’s such a pleasure to be there. I miss it!

And the most challenging?

University inter-railing and turning up in places in the middle of the night with nowhere to stay. I don’t recommend doing this in Aix-en-Provence or Bologna.

How are you adjusting to the "new normal"?

Staying positive and seeing the problems as a spur to ingenuity, rather than endless frustration.

What's your dream destination?

New Zealand is very appealing right now.

What's your indispensable travel gadget?

A portable phone charger.

What's your in-flight entertainment pick?

One of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell books.


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