In one sense, Investec Plc’s sponsorship of Opera Holland Park in London concludes this season on a low note. At the bottom of a ravine, in fact. In another sense, it couldn’t be higher.
The sixth and final opera this summer is Catalani’s Alpine barnstormer “La Wally,” in which the hero gets swallowed by an avalanche and the heroine throws herself into the abyss after him. It’s staged with a clever use of cloth and rope, and with generous financial help from Investec Wealth & Investment in London.
Does the company make a return on funding operatic avalanches? I meet David Bulteel, an executive director of Investec and spokesman on the sponsorship, to find out.
With his high forehead and neat moustache, Bulteel, 56, has the look of a friendly Edwardian schoolmaster. He’s passionate about choral music, and during our conversation also reveals that he had been a male alto in his church choir.
When he talks about the success of the partnership with Holland Park, he displays a similar enthusiasm. It’s like meeting Tigger, the lively character from A.A. Milne’s “The House at Pooh Corner,” and it’s infectiously engaging.
“It has been the most fantastic success,” Bulteel says. “The response from all the clients and fund managers we’ve taken has been amazingly positive.”
It began four years ago, when Bulteel was working for U.K. fund manager Rensburg Sheppards Plc. A colleague recommended Holland Park Opera, and he entertained a party of clients there.
“We loved what we saw, and returned the following seasons,” he says. “People would talk about it for weeks afterwards. It rang all the right bells for us, so this year we decided to become headline sponsors for the whole season.”
Rensburg Sheppards was acquired last year by Investec, a private bank and wealth manager with operations in South Africa, Australia and the U.K. Now the sponsorship is part of Investec’s program of giving, which until this year was focused primarily on sport.
As headline sponsors, the company name is fully incorporated into the Holland Park season, from the posters to the intermission announcements. Investec uses zebras in its advertising, and there are also several eye-catching zebra statues dotted around the foyer areas.
Mike Volpe, the general manager of Holland Park Opera, is delighted to showcase the Investec name as much as possible. “The brands are fully integrated for the duration of the sponsorship,” he says. “Their name goes right through everything, like a stick of rock.”
Investec receives tickets to productions, and gets a chance to meet the artists. A long chat with Richard Bonynge, widower of soprano Joan Sutherland and the conductor of this season’s staging of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale,” was a particular hit for Bulteel’s guests.
Bulteel declines to disclose the exact amount of funding, which he describes as “a substantial six-figure sum.”
The overall budget of Opera Holland Park this year is 2.5 million pounds ($4 million), says Volpe. Its largest single funder is the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, whose contribution covers about 20 percent of total costs.
The Investec sponsorship agreement is in place for one year, with an option to renew. “It has been so successful, that my recommendation to the board will be that we renew, and it’s looking very realistic at the moment,” says Bulteel. “Budgets are budgets though, and everything has to be reassessed every year.”
There’s an affinity in what the two organizations are trying to do, he says. “We look after individuals, and nurture them as private clients. Holland Park does the same thing with young singers. It’s a perfect match.”
One soprano whom Holland Park has nurtured is the rising star Amanda Echalaz, soon to make her Metropolitan Opera debut as Madam Butterfly. “We threw a party for our colleagues and clients at the London Museum recently,” says Bulteel, “and Holland Park arranged for Amanda to sing excerpts from ‘Butterfly’ with a string quartet. You can imagine the wow factor that created. It was incredible.”
Volpe says there are other benefits to a sponsor. “If you give to the Royal Opera House, or Glyndebourne, your money goes into a big pot. If you give to us, you can see the results of your giving on stage, in a better set, or more elaborate costumes. It’s very tangible.”
Do the sums add up financially for Investec, I ask? “There’s a business side to it, of course,” Bulteel says. “We like to be aware of how many new clients it brings in, and how much money they might generate. There are softer issues, however, and softer benefits, and you can’t measure those in pound signs.”
What sort of benefits? “The staff members love the fact that they can take clients, and it really helps them build relationships,” he says. “Yes, it costs money, but the value we get from it is the most important thing.”
Bulteel remains enthusiastic. “Ten years ago, who’d heard of Investec in the U.K.? Now, with the help of sponsorship, our brand awareness is much higher. It’s a win-win situation.”
“La Wally” is at Opera Holland Park, London, sponsored by Investec Wealth & Investment, through Aug. 12. Information: http://www.operahollandpark.com or +44-300-999-1000.
(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)