Working in opera management

 27 February 2013

Isabel Murphy used her passion for opera after university to help artists, members and staff prepare for tours. She spoke about her career and how she shaped Welsh National Opera's artistic direction.

Following a BA Music degree, Isabel Murphy got involved in English National Opera and then moved to the Welsh National Opera. Image: WNO, Ne
Following a BA Music degree, Isabel Murphy got involved in English National Opera and then moved to the Welsh National Opera. Image: WNO, Ne

Working at the Welsh National Opera

“The Welsh National Opera is based in Cardiff, but it tours across Wales and England. We could be based anywhere in the country, but we have built a strong Welsh identity over the years.

"National Opera and Welsh National Opera are very good companies, which have created exciting work and engaged lots of extraordinarily talented artists.

"Previous to my role as Director of Artistic Administration, I was the Director of Opera Planning at the Welsh National Opera, and I had pivotal input into the artistic direction of the company.

"In my last role, I was responsible for developing and co-ordinating the company’s artistic plans. This included the casting and repertory planning; the casting budget and managing nine permanent staff, associate artists and a vocal consultant.

"I feel very privileged to be involved in the creation of art."

"My typical day includes line-managing staff and working with singers and agents. I was also involved in department planning, casting, auditions, performances and working with senior management. It’s enjoyable and stimulating work and I feel very privileged to be involved in the creation of art.

"The only downside is very long hours and lots of evening and weekend work which interferes with my social life!”

Training for a career in opera management

“I did a BA Hons in Music at Bristol University, which is where I fell in love with Opera. I joined the University Society of Music, became ‘President’ of the society and mounted concerts.

"I enjoyed organising these events so much – it was a lot of fun! – so I decided to do it for a career and follow my passion.

“Accept disappointment, move on, and look for other opportunities and directions.”

"My career started when I got my first part-time job as an Education Officer for Kent Opera, before moving on to work as Assistant to an Orchestra Manager.  

"Then I worked as a Competition Secretary for City of London Festival, and I got involved in Bath Festival. Getting a wide variety of experience very early on in my career set me on the right path.

I was also very proud as my role as ‘Tour Assistant’ to the Soviet Union. Taking English National Opera (over 250 people) for a three week tour to Kiev, Moscow and St Petersburg was amazing and the most challenging job I have ever done. I worked 18-hour days before we went and while we were there. I’ve never experienced such exhaustion since!”

Starting your career in opera management

“A good piece of advice when starting in the caree is to have a positive outlook and do everything with enthusiasm, passion and energy. In general, you should decide to be positive – I choose to have this attitude – along with a ‘can do’ mentality. 

"I would say be aware of challenges in the industry, like, changes in policy and technological advancements, reduction in public funding and reduction in orporate sponsorship from companies.

"Also, be brave and hold the highest aspirations possible. Don’t be frightened of setting very high goals!

"A great way of getting the most out of your experiences is by taking responsibility for getting your work done and not backing down. If you come up against change or disappointment, the best thing to do is accept it, move on and look for other opportunities and directions."

Improving your skills and training

"The skills I learnt were mostly learnt on the job. This included computer training like Microsoft Word and Excel. I also had some inspirational bosses, who played a valuable role in my development.

"If I had done a Clore short course, it would have helped me so much as I was developing myself. Developing leadership and coaching skills, media training, and business and strategic development courses are all useful for future development.

"My ideal course would be one on which many of the inspirational leaders in the arts were present, so that we could together inspire each other. The skills we have will help move the arts industry forward and give the arts a more powerful voice in the community.”

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