Viola Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster became Clonter’s first Patron followed by Sir Charles Groves and latterly Sir George Christie from 1998-2014. Early supporters included the music critic Michael Kennedy CBE who championed Clonter for many years and strong links were formed with teachers and emerging artists from The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. By 1983 Clonter’s operatic picnics had become firmly established and there was a demand for more performances. Jeffery set about converting the barn into a permanent theatre which now comprises of a 400 seat auditorium, with undercover dining facilities and a licensed bar accompany the stage and orchestra pit.
The physical development of the barn stimulated a reassessment of Clonter Farm’s musical ambitions. It was decided Clonter should become a charity and a stepping stone for emerging singers between their conservatoires and the profession. An educational outreach programme for schools in the North West was also started. An active board of Trustees raised funds to help Clonter Opera Farm launch its first Opera Studio with Leonard Hancock as Music Director. He and Wyn Davies coached the singers, Patrick Libby, Sally Day, Patrick Mcguigan and the legendary Sheila Barlow were amongst the early stage directors. Music Directors, Michael Rosewell, Anthony Legge and latterly Clive Timms succeeded Leonard Hancock. Simon Keenlyside, Mary Plazas and Amanda Roocroft came to Clonter whilst still students at The RNCM. Simon later became President of Clonter Farm Music Trust.
In 1989 Clonter performed Eugene Onegin, this was the first time the opera studio put on a complete opera. The decision to concentrate on one opera instead of excerpts was a result of the success of the previous year’s course when the opera studio performed the one act opera – Il Tabarro which resulted in two of the cast receiving excellent first commissions from English National Opera.
Directors Jamie Hayes, Martin Lloyd Evans, Michael McCaffery, Victoria Newlyn and Geoffrey Saunders became regular collaborators in subsequent Clonter Opera Productions, as did designers Elroy Ashmore, Nick Barnes, Peter Ruthven-Hall, Eleanor Wdowski and lighting designer Alexandra Stafford.