Graham Vick, the British opera director who founded the Birmingham Opera Company, has died. Renowned for his boundary-breaking productions in untraditional venues, the 67-year-old director brought opera to audiences in lesser-reached communities across the UK. He died from ‘complications arising from COVID-19’, as announced in a statement from the Birmingham Opera Company.
We are devastated to announce that today 17 July 2021 Sir Graham Vick, Artistic Director, Birmingham Opera Company died of complications arising from Covid 19. We would ask all to respect the privacy of his partner and loved ones at this time. pic.twitter.com/lP6c8l6D3g— Birmingham Opera Co (@BirminghamOpera) July 17, 2021
Vick’s career began with the Scottish Opera, conducting Holst’s Savitri at just 24 years old, before becoming the company’s director of productions just a few years later. He founded the Scottish Opera’s touring company, aimed at bringing opera to remote towns across Scotland. The Scottish Opera joined Birmingham in paying tribute to the director and his ‘legacy of many important international productions’.
We are deeply saddened by the death of Sir Graham Vick. He was our Director of Productions from 1984 before founding Birmingham Opera Company. Graham had a renowned international career and leaves a legacy of many important international productions. pic.twitter.com/T9rW8zKp0U— Scottish Opera (@ScottishOpera) July 17, 2021
In 1994, Vick became director of productions at Glyndebourne Opera, before going on to launch his own company in 1987: the Birmingham Opera Company, where he stayed on as artistic director.
Under Vick’s direction, the Birmingham Opera Company staged radical productions in derelict venues – there was Monteverdi on an ice rink and Stockhausen in a chemical warehouse. ‘In other cities, you pay to watch productions by Vick. In Birmingham, you’re actually directed by him,’ wrote Richard Bratby of Vick’s influence on Birmingham in BBC Music Magazine. ‘It’s not a Birmingham Opera Company night out until Vick himself has shoved you out of the path of some huge, rolling piece of scenery. And you’ll never see a more committed or diverse opera company – or audience.’
Vick constantly pushed boundaries. One memorable production was his innovative interpretation of Verdi’s Otello in 2009, with Ronald Samm featuring as the eponymous lead – the first black tenor to sing the role in the UK. The immersive staging was set in a former industrial plant, with 250 people from Birmingham performing as the opera’s chorus, dancers and actors alongside the professional principals and orchestra.
Vick’s work with opera in the UK led to him receiving a knighthood in the 2021 New Year Honours earlier this year. He had previously been appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2009.
In 2020, he appointed Birmingham-born Alpesh Chauhan as the Birmingham Opera Company’s music director, becoming the first music director of black and minority ethnic heritage in the UK.
Read all our previous reviews of operas directed by Graham Vick here.