Opera + Classical Music Features

Nevill Holt Opera celebrates its 10th anniversary with a summer season and much more besides

Productions of three operas in June represent just one part of the company’s output.

Nevill Holt Opera

Nevill Holt Opera (Photo: Robert Workman)

Based on the medieval Nevill Holt estate near Market Harborough, Nevill Holt Opera boasts beautiful gardens, sculpture by Anthony Gormley, Marc Quinn and Conrad Shawcross, and stunning views across the Leicestershire countryside. After being founded in 2013 as an independent festival, this year it celebrates its 10th anniversary with its summer season and a range of educational events that fulfil its mission to stand at the centre of its community.

The summer festival takes place in the venue’s intimate and beautiful 400 seat opera house, opened in 2018 and installed inside an historic stable block courtyard. Designed by Stirling Prize winning architects Witherford Watson Mann in conjunction with theatre designers Sound Space Vision, it is still the only opera house ever to have been nominated for the RIBA Stirling Prize. This year three operas will be performed in it, with two of them comprising a double bill.

Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci of 1892 may more commonly be known as the second half of ‘Cav and Pag’ since it is almost always performed with Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana. It is not difficult to see why, since they were only composed two years apart, together seem to provide a master class in verismo, and have enough thematic similarities, and potential overlap in voice parts, for synergies to be drawn. Nevertheless, there is no absolute reason why the two have to be paired, and one has to wonder, had the Metropolitan Opera not coupled them as early as 1893 (although performances of each with such heavy hitters as Il barbiere di Siviglia or Don Pasquale persisted for decades) whether the ‘marriage’ would ever have taken place at all. As a result, it is entirely appropriate for NHO to choose to couple Leoncavallo not with Mascagni, but with Puccini. Paradoxically, it is this double bill’s second opera Gianni Schicchi that has stronger ties with other works since Puccini wrote it as the final opera in his Il trittico. However, it is fairly common to see it performed without the other two, and it has been presented before now with everything from Ravel’s L’heure espagnole to Mascagni’s Zanetto. The double bill (from 31 May) will see NHO’s Artistic Director Nicholas Chalmers conduct the Manchester Camerata, which played a leading role in NHO’s 2022 winter festival, as it reunites the team responsible for La bohème here last year. This comprises Mathilda du Tillieul McNicol, who will direct the Jette Parker Artists’ Arminio at the Royal Opera House in April, and designer Basia Bińkowska, who has worked on several productions at the Donmar Warehouse.

Last year Nevill Holt presented Il barbiere di Siviglia and this year its second main production is another work by Rossini, La Cenerentola (from 22 June). This features a production team that is new to NHO, with Royal Shakespeare Company Associate Artist Owen Horsley, who was responsible for Garsington Opera’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2015, directing. Simon Wells, who has been involved in productions at many London theatres, is the designer while conductor Dionysis Grammenos, who has led La bohème for English Touring Opera, also makes his NHO debut conducting the Royal Northern Sinfonia. Like Il barbiere last year, La Cenerentola will follow its run at NHO in late June with performances at Sage Gateshead on 1 and 2 July.

“This year three operas will be performed…”

Both productions include 90 minute dining intervals and, as with other summer opera venues, guests are invited to bring their own picnic or to enjoy one of the many dining options that are on offer. They can book a two or three course meal in the Welland Valley Restaurant; an informal buffet menu of fresh, seasonal food in the Kitchen Garden; a private Picnic Pavilion, or even a seat in the Picnic Chapel, which contains a small stone that is a remaining part of the stone used to make Richard III’s sarcophagus in Leicester Cathedral.

Nevill Holt Opera has come a long way in the 10 years in which it was founded and is rightly proud of the work it has achieved in the realms of opera, education and community. Its 10th anniversary artistic programme showcases everything that the festival embodies in promoting an array of established and rising British operatic talent, as well as children from the Malcolm Arnold Academy in Northampton. It has grown its audiences by 15% each year, and in 2023 over 9,000 children, young people and adults will participate in or see its work.

In fact, Nevill Holt has a particularly strong record in engaging youth in the local community, some of whom have gone on to train for a professional career in the opera industry. Following the success of A Night at the Opera in 2022, which involved over 1,000 Year 5 primary school students from the East Midlands, NHO is once again partnering with the David Ross Education Trust and the Royal Opera House to present an abridged version of The Magic Flute. Performances will take place in six towns and cities, namely Hull, Northampton, Grimsby, Corby, Bridlington Spa and Rugby. Having already begun in January, the project will run for the entire spring term, and will provide continuous professional development training for primary teachers. Alongside Nevill Holt’s own delivery team, these teachers will train the students with arrangements of Mozart’s music, culminating in the performances in March 2023. Up to 35 children will perform at each venue alongside Nevill Holt Associate Artists and a professional orchestra.

Artistic Director Nicholas Chalmers said “Since the foundation of the company in 2013, we have wanted to show a pathway to the operatic stage and industry for young people. We put all our energies into fulfilling that ambition and we are so proud to have a cohort of students who were on our stage at Primary School, whom we have supported through their teenage years, and are now at specialist music colleges at degree level, and are back on our stage as Associate Artists. We believe that this ethos will help broaden the appeal and support for our art form, and our growing audiences and body of work indicate the merits of this long term investment.”

• Nevill Holt Opera’s 2023 summer season will run from 31 May to 28 June. For further details and tickets visit its website.  

Details of the performances of La Cenerentola at Sage Gateshead on 1 and 2 July will appear on its website.

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