Inspiring Females presents: Alison Sefton meets Genevieve Raghu

Picture of Genevieve Raghu in a school, working with pupils on the '2020: You Won’t Hold Me Back!' project

Genevieve Raghu does a lot of work with primary schools through Into Opera, which she set up in 2017 to remove the barriers to enjoying opera - Credit: Genevieve Raghu

Head of Norwich High School for Girls, Alison Sefton meets Genevieve Raghu. An alumna of Norwich High School, Genevieve has gone on to build a career in the arts as a stage director of theatre and opera and is now the artistic director and CEO of Into Opera, and a founder director of Opera UK.  

Alison Sefton, head of Norwich High School for Girls sitting at her desk

Alison Sefton, head of Norwich High School for Girls - Credit: Norwich High School for Girls

Did you have a role model who inspired your career ambitions? 

I would love to start by saying I have been inspired by women throughout my arts career - but in honesty, I have worked with very few women in leadership roles. Out of the 14 directors I assisted in the early stages of my career, only one was a woman. I became increasingly aware of this imbalance. 

So are you more driven by personal motivations? 

Yes - I am motivated by thinking ‘I haven't seen someone doing that, so I'm going to do it!’ That’s exactly what I’ve done with founding Into Opera. I decided to go to a top business school in London to develop my skill set to make this happen and was the only person on the course with an arts background. 

Did your education help you with your career path? 

Absolutely. My music teacher at school was the first person to introduce me to opera. She encouraged us to watch performances, and brought composers’ stories to life. I visited several countries and enjoyed many concerts across Europe whilst studying GCSE and A Level Music. 

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I read English and Theatre Studies at the University of Warwick – that literary foundation has been fundamental to my work. My mind grew, as did my creativity and imagination!

One day, the director of Warwick Arts Centre’s Music Centre came to me and said: “You're doing so much work with drama, I know you've got a musical interest, and I've seen that you can read music – why don't you try directing opera?”  

I decided to audition for drama school, and one of the panelists, despite offering me a place on their acting course, said: “You should dream bigger and think about the impact that the arts can make on people's lives.”

I walked out of that room invigorated - and didn't look back. 

So tell me more about Into Opera. 

Quite early on in my career, I realised how inaccessible opera can sometimes be; my mission was to remove the barriers! I founded Into Opera in 2017 and am now it’s artistic director and CEO. 

My only opera experience involved £185 tickets at Covent Garden! 

Exactly. In contrast, we’ve run events from as low as £10 per ticket to £65 for VIP experiences. In 2019, we transformed the beautiful Octagon Barn in Little Plumstead into a magical mini opera house, with an orchestra, food tents and picnics - an event for all ages.  

Into Opera also does a lot of education work. Over the pandemic, one girl got in touch and said things to me such as "do keep believing in yourself and what you do" and "keep changing people’s lives". These kind gestures inspired me to call parents and teachers that I'd worked with and ask: "What do your children need right now?"

All those conversations inspired me to develop our major 2020 project ‘2020: You Won’t Hold Me Back!’. We worked with primary schools to create a song-cycle to tell children's stories about the pandemic and how it had impacted their lives – making sure their voices were heard.   

So what’s next for you?

We are now launching a two-year residency with primary schools in Norwich. It’s supported by Anguish’s Education Foundation and we’re collaborating with Durham University and the University of East Anglia. We’ll be creating a series of cultural and creative activities and initiatives to address educational, cultural and social needs of primary aged children.  

I’m also commissioning a lot of new music and starting to put plans in place for our next Norfolk Into Opera Festival. 

And finally, what advice would you pass on to those reading? 

Follow your heart with your career - something I have absolutely done. However, I think it is essential to have your eyes open and educate yourself too.

I have always found it helpful and empowering to keep two quotes at the front of my mind: Eleanor Roosevelt’s “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” and Samuel Beckett’s “Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”

Discover more about Into Opera and Norwich High School for Girls at:

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