Buxton International Festival has been thrilling audiences for more than 40 years. We have a reputation for offering often once-in-a-life-time opportunities to hear sublime but rarely performed operas; and internationally acclaimed singers, musicians and literary speakers are all attracted to our beautiful spa town. Here's how BIF came to be...
1900 – 1930 A glittering start…
Buxton International Festival’s story begins with the town’s beautiful opera house. It opened with great fanfare in 1903. Designed by the doyen of opera house architects, Frank Matcham, it remains to this day a real gem of Edwardian architecture.
1930 – 1970 Challenging times…
Buxton Opera House was attracting the biggest names of the day. The legendary director Lilian Baylis brought an Old Vic Theatre Company production to the town, Sadler’s Wells brought opera and the Hallé played regularly in the adjacent Octagon. However post war the Opera House was mostly being used as a cinema and started falling into disrepair.
1970 – 1980 A plan is hatched…
In 1976 Malcolm Fraser, then lecturer at the Royal Northern College of Music, visited Buxton on a day trip. Entranced by the beauty of the town he mustered friends from the world of music, and the idea of a festival to revive the Opera House was born.
The Festival’s opening year in 1979 was a triumph, though not without drama. The soprano for the role of Lucia in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor lost her voice on the morning of the opening performance. A replacement was flown in from Germany, arriving two hours before curtain-up!
In 1980 enough money had been raised to restore the Opera House. A grand re-opening was hosted by Princess Alice, the Duchess of Gloucester, and was attended by the poet laureate Sir John Betjeman. The Minister for the Arts, Norman St John Stevas, played the trumpet with a local band outside!
1980 – 2000 Rarely performed opera becomes BIF’s signature…
Organisers realised that the Festival needed to offer something different to encourage people to Buxton. Rarely performed or unusual opera became BIF’s signature. These seldom staged works continue to attract not only audiences from across the world but also a stellar array of musicians and artists thrilled to be able to perform in them. Lesley Garrett’s career was launched when she sang in Cimarosa’s Secret Marriage, while outside the theatre George Thomas, the then speaker of the House of Commons, was spotted twirling with the Morris dancers on Opening night. Buxton does that to people.
2000 – Present Books, anniversaries and outreach work
The Festival continued to grow with the inclusion of a major concert series. Then in 2001 came the idea of adding a literary element, the brainchild of the then Chairman Roy Hattersley. Margaret Drabble, Beryl Bainbridge, Sir Jeremy Isaacs, Michael Palin, PD James are among the many literary and celebrity giants who have flocked to what one critic has described as the ‘envy of Edinburgh let alone Cheltenham.’
In 2019 Buxton International Festival celebrated its 40th anniversary by reviving the genre of opera pasticcio with a specially written work Georgiana. The critically acclaimed and award winning opera depicted the story of the exuberant 5th Duchess of Devonshire – whose family, at the nearby Chatsworth estate, remain inextricably entwinned with Buxton.
Today Buxton International Festival has evolved to become more than just a summer celebration. Work takes place all year round to provide opportunities for young musicians, platforms for rising stars in the North of England, BIF delivers Art Council Awards in local primary schools, and runs the local Kaleidoscope Community choir
What the critics say…
‘There is no more enticing Festival than Buxton’, said The Sunday Telegraph; ‘I’d advise you urgently to get to Buxton’, said The Times; ‘One of Europe’s great … unmissable opera Festivals’ said the New York Metropolitan Opera House magazine; ‘The best Opera Festival in Europe’ said Germany’s Opera Magazine!
Buxton International Festival looks forward to welcoming everyone for more unmissable opera, music and literary events which you simply will not find all in one place elsewhere.
Recognised nationally and internationally as one of the UK’s leading arts festivals, Buxton International Festival is a summer celebration of the very best opera, music and literature at the heart of the beautiful Peak District.
Jobs & opportunities
Buxton International Festival is made of a small, passionate and dedicated team working all year round. We would love for you to join us to help inspire a new generation.
Help bring live performances back!
Buxton International Festival is looking for volunteers to help us host a COVID-19 safe, socially distanced Festival from 8-25 July.
The Festival Volunteers are the smiling and welcoming face of the Festival, greeting and seating ticket holders, and supporting the staff team to deliver the
annual celebration of creativity in Buxton.
Benefits of being a BIF volunteer:
• Enjoy the buzz of the Festival
• Grow your social circle and meet new people
• Access free training and enhance your personal skills, knowledge and experience
• Volunteering is good for your mental and physical health
• Get to see some of the BIF events
• Work as part of the awesome BIF team
• Be able to say “I was part of that”
If you’re looking for a creative, artistic experience this summer then come and join our intern team. Gain experience of working within the arts and events industries, develop new skills and meet new people.
The placements will run from 5 July – 28 July in Buxton.
Being a Festival Intern can be a hugely rewarding experience that will help you on your way to a great job in the arts. Past Festival Interns have gone on to work in a variety of settings including Wembley Arena, The Lowry Theatre and Buxton International Festival!
Click here Buxton Festival Interns 2021 for more details and for information on how to apply.
Meet the people behind the BIF team
Chief Executive Officer
Michael started his opera career working as an Assistant Director for New Sadler’s Wells Opera in London, touring productions throughout the UK. He returned to South Africa and worked for Cape Town Opera for the next twenty years as head of Outreach, opera director, General Manager and finally as Managing Director. He is the author of several novels, plays, musicals and opera libretti. He moved to Buxton in 2018 with his wife, Ettie, and loves walking in the High Peak.
Following his studies at the University of Cambridge, English conductor Adrian Kelly became a member of the Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and was then a coach at the Hamburg State Opera. From 2010 to 2017 he was first Kapellmeister at the Salzburg State Theatre, working regularly with the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg. In June 2018, he was appointed Artistic Director of Buxton International Festival. As part of his first season he conducted a new production of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.
Book Festival Director
Vicky has worked in bookshops from the south coast to Moray in the North-East of Scotland. She was a store manager for both the Waterstones and Ottakar’s book chains and was a partner in two independent bookshops until 2018 when she relocated to Derbyshire. Utterly committed to spreading the joy of the written word, Vicky now runs an online second hand bookshop specialising in art, architecture and history alongside her role as Book Festival Director at BIF.
I joined Buxton International Festival in 2017, having worked for a variety of not for profit Arts & Heritage organisations including; the National Trust, HOME, Contact Theatre, The Lowry, Abandon Normal Devices, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. I am responsible for income generating activity working with Individuals, Trusts & Foundations and Corporates and love meeting our amazing donors and supporters and hearing their stories about the festival. I am a great advocate of the role of the arts in social change and continue to be amazed at the incredible artists we work with and the impact their music and words have on the lives of people, young and old. Living in the Peak District, I love walking and watching our ever changing and often unpredictable seasons!
Lucy is a professional fundraiser has been working for charities for over 14 years. She works for BIF, The Thomas Theyer Foundation and is a Director of Buxton Civic Association. With 2 border collies and when not at work, she can be found usually out on the moors, or walking in Buxton’s woodlands.
Harriet has been a friend and advocate of the Festival for many years. She comes from a journalistic background and moved to Buxton in 2011 when parts of the BBC relocated to Salford. More recently she has been working in communications in the travel and tourism industry. Having been brought up in the countryside she feels very much at home in the Peak District. In her spare time she enjoys wild swimming and exploring the stunning scenery on her doorstep by foot and bike.
Digital Marketing Officer
Mel is a freelance digital marketer who has worked with BIF since 2019 (and has attended Buxton Festival since she was at school!). With a background in publishing, she is passionate about the arts and storytelling, and loves combining these interests in her festival role. A dedicated bibliophile, you’ll often finding her exploring Derbyshire’s literary spots with camera in hand.
Born into a musical family, I was asked ‘which instrument would you like to play’ at quite an early age. Music and performance have been my life ever since. Having graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, I started my career as an Orchestra Manager with the English Chamber Orchestra, moving up north to join Manchester Camerata and then the Northern Chamber Orchestra. It is at the NCO that I began my love affair with Buxton International Festival and I have never regretted joining the amazing team at BIF and am thankful that I can continue to work with my former colleagues as their association with the Festival continues.
Lee joined the company in 1992 and is the Administrator and Company Secretary of Buxton International Festival. Lee has also served as a Trustee of the Friends of Buxton Festival Board and continues to work closely with our Friends group and knows many of our members personally. Having had a long history with the Festival there is little that Lee has not rolled up his sleeves and done for the organisation for the past quarter of a century. When time allows Lee enjoys travelling and seeing other opera productions in the UK and further afield.
Marie-Axelle joined Buxton Festival as the Finance Manager in January 2020. She had moved to the UK 25 years ago after completing her business degree in France, her native country. She worked for 17 years for Kellogg in Manchester where she acquired a wealth of experience in finance, especially around setting financial strategies and managing budgets. She left Kellogg in 2013 to focus on her and husband Peter’s holiday cottages business in the Peak District, which she continues to manage when not working for the Festival.
I am a self-employed bookkeeper and accountant specialising in charity accounts. I moved to Buxton in 2019 with my husband and 3 boys and was excited to join the Festival team at the start of 2020. My role at the Festival is ensure all of the day-to-day accounting is done and to support Max our Finance Manager. When not working, I play the cello, am part of a local church, enjoy walking and craft and am developing my green fingers having foolishly bought a house with a large garden.