Opera + Classical Music Features

Preview – Opera Holland Park’s 2024 season promises everything from Handel to Puccini

The festival Londoners can find on their doorstep combines famous works with lesser known gems.

Opera Holland Park

Opera Holland Park (Photo: Sam Smith)

While part of the delight of Glyndebourne, Garsington and the Granges is the act of making a day of it, Opera Holland Park’s unique selling point is that it offers the summer opera experience while being highly accessible for Londoners. Only a ten minute walk from High Street Kensington station, it is somewhere to spend the evening rather than the entire day, but the beautiful setting still feels a long way from the hustle and bustle of a large metropolis. The eco-friendly auditorium, created by designer takis, sees the ruins of Holland House form a permanent backdrop to the stage, and the absence of any dress code means that the atmosphere always feels relaxed.

Holland Park has a long and proud tradition of bringing to public attention works by Italian composers whose own considerable talents were eclipsed by those of their contemporary, or near contemporary, Puccini. In the past it has presented pieces by Wolf-Ferrari, Cilea, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Montemezzi and Catalani, but this year, with 2024 marking the centenary of his death, the focus is very much on the master himself. The season opens on 28 May with a revival of Stephen Barlow’s 2008 production of Tosca, which was highly acclaimed for being so innovative. This is an opera that directors generally shy away from updating, because all of the action occurs at such a specific time, namely on 17 and 18 June 1800 during the Battle of Marengo. There are exceptions to this rule, however, such as Luc Bondy’s 2009 production for the Metropolitan Opera which implied a setting of Fascist Italy, and Barlow also updates the action to set it in the grit and glamour of 1960s Rome. 

Tosca is played by South African soprano Amanda Echalaz, who sang the role in the 2008 production, and has gone on to perform it in Berlin, Dresden, Santa Fe, Salzburg, Strasbourg, Sydney and New York. Portuguese tenor José de Eça makes his company debut as Cavaradossi, while a former Figaro for English National Opera in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Morgan Pearse, sings Scarpia. The designer is Yannis Thavoris, who has collaborated with Barlow before at OHP on such productions as La fanciulla del West (2014) and Don Giovanni (2017). Matthew Kofi Waldren, a former English National Opera Mackerras Fellow who led the UK premiere of Jeanine Tesori’s Blue at ENO last year, conducts. His many credits at Opera Holland Park include Les pêcheurs de perles (2013), Il barbiere di Siviglia (2014), Lakmé (2015)La bohème (2016)La rondine (2017), La traviata (2018 and 2021) and Un ballo in maschera (2019), and Tosca will actually constitute his 14th engagement with the company since he joined the inaugural cohort of Opera Holland Park Young Artists. Gabriella Teychenné conducts on 9 June, while the members of the children’s chorus come from Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School.

In producing La bohème last year and Puccini’s first ever opera Le Villi in 2022, OHP has proved adept at presenting both the composer’s biggest hits and rarities. This trend continues in 2024, as, alongside Tosca, the season includes Puccini’s second, and relatively little known, opera Edgar, which will be seen in semi-staged performances on 2, 4 and 6 July. It will be directed by Ruth Knight, who recently revived Peter Konwitschny’s La traviata for English National Opera, and includes many OHP regulars. Peter Auty sings Edgar and Anne Sophie Duprels Fidelia, with the pair having sung Roberto and Anna respectively in Le Villi. Gweneth Ann Rand is Tigrana, Julien Van Mellaerts assumes the role of Frank and James Cleverton plays Gualtiero. Mark Jonathan is the lighting designer, while members of the children’s chorus are drawn from the Pimlico Musical Foundation and Tiffin School. 

Il barbiere di Siviglia (from 4 June) is the type of comedy that OHP excels in, as witnessed by Oliver Platt’s 2014 production in which a ‘routine’ with the ladder was simply hilarious. 2024 sees a new production by Celia Stinton, who was responsible for Rigoletto last year and Carmen in 2022. It will be conducted by Charlotte Corderoy, who conducted the Young Artist performance of Hänsel und Gretel last year, and designed by Neil Irish who was responsible for Rigoletto, Hänsel und Gretel, Don Giovanni set on a cruise ship (2017), and La Cenerentola (2016). He also designed OHP’s Il barbiere di Siviglia in 2014, successfully setting the action on the streets of Victorian London, complete with lamplighters and Bow Street Runners. This time around we are expecting something quite different, but equally innovative. 

Paul Grant plays Figaro, Elgan Llŷr Thomas takes on Count Almaviva, Heather Lowe sings Rosina and Jihoon Kim, Don Basilio. OHP regular Stephen Gadd, who played Rigoletto here last year, is Dr Bartolo, while Janis Kelly is luxury casting as Berta as her performance of ‘Il vecchiotto cerca moglie’ for Glyndebourne in 2016 and 2019 could hardly have been bettered. Just how she plays it on this occasion, however, remains to be seen as she presented it quite differently, and equally successfully, at Nevill Holt Opera in 2022 in keeping with the style of that production. There is a Young Artists performance on 14 June, featuring a different cast and crew, while the 14.00 performance on 16 June is a Discovery Matinee, designed to welcome people who want to try opera out for the first time in a relaxed environment, and for those who love opera but find the normal theatre going experience inaccessible. Tosca and The Yeomen of the Guard also feature Discovery Matinees on 9 June and 10 August respectively.

From 19 July, OHP presents its first ever Handel opera, Acis and Galatea, directed by Louise Bakker, conducted by former Opera Holland Park Young Artist Michael Papadopoulos and designed by Alyson Cummins. It sees Anthony Gregory sing Acis, Elizabeth Karani play Galatea, and Chuma Sijeqa and Ruairi Bowen assume the roles of Polyphemus and Damon respectively. Until now the festival has tended to steer clear of 18th century works, but it is hard to picture a London venue more suited to capturing the essence of the ‘Arcadian’ vision that underscores the story. If the parks’ peacocks are in fine voice we might even get some real birdsong!

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 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 OHP to choose to couple Leoncavallo not with Mascagni, but with Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s Il segreto di Susanna (from 17 July). This should make for a superb evening, because this Il segreto, directed by John Wilkie, conducted by John Andrews and designed by takis, was both polished and delightful when it first appeared in 2019. On this occasion, it includes exactly the same trio of performers, namely Clare Presland, Richard Burkhard and John Savournin, who also appeared together in an online production of Walton’s The Bear in 2021, so strong rapport seems to be guaranteed. 

In 2019 Il segreto was paired with Iolanta, making for one of the best nights ever at Opera Holland Park as David Butt Philip gave a thrilling performance as Count Vaudémont. On this occasion, Butt Philip sings Canio while Alison Langer, who was superb as Gilda in 2023 and Micaëla in 2022, plays Nedda, and Robert Hayward, who was Wotan for English National Opera for many years, takes on the role of Tonio. Pagliacci will be directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans, who has enjoyed many triumphs at Opera Holland Park including Wolf-Ferrari’s I gioielli della Madonna (2013), conducted by Francesco Cilluffo and designed by Bridget Kimak.

The Yeomen of the Guard (from 7 August) represents a collaboration with Charles Court Opera. When the same pairing presented The Pirates of Penzance here in 2021 (and in 2020 in reduced and relaxed performances) it represented the first Gilbert and Sullivan that Holland Park had presented in 20 years. However, with it going on to perform HMS Pinafore 12 months later and Ruddigore in 2023, an operetta from this partnership has now become a regular feature of each season. It is directed by John Savournin, who played Sir Despard Murgatroyd last year, and is now set to take on the role of Wilfred Shadbolt. The rest of the high calibre cast includes Holland Park regulars, such as Stephen Gadd who plays Sir Richard Cholmondeley, people who appeared in Pinafore and Ruddigore, such as Llio Evans who sings Elise Maynard and Natasha Agarwal who plays Kate, and ENO regulars such as Samantha Price, who recently sang Iolanthe for the company, and here plays Phoebe Meryll. William Morgan is Colonel Fairfax, Matthew Kellett sings Jack Point and Amy J Payne takes on Dame Carruthers. As with Pinafore and Ruddigore the conductor is David Eaton, while the designer is Alyson Cummins and choreographer Merry Holden. In 2022 The Grange Festival and ENO produced extremely different stagings of the work so it will be interesting to see what Savournin delivers for OHP, especially since he played Sir Richard Cholmondeley for The Grange.

The City of London Sinfonia constitutes the orchestra for all of the productions, and all choruses with the exception of the various children’s choruses will be provided by the Opera Holland Park Chorus, under Chorus Masters Dominic Ellis-Peckham and Richard Harker. Every opera will be performed in its original language with English surtitles. Alongside these six main productions, Holland Park has many other events over the season including appearances from The Royal Ballet School (26 to 29 July), productions from other companies, and events aimed at all the family (such as Waterperry Opera’s Peter and the Wolf on 21 July). The highly renowned Opera in Song recital series also returns (20 June to 21 July), with 20 June featuring A Gala Concert for Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, and a preceding masterclass with the singer, to celebrate her 80th birthday this year.

• Opera Holland Park’s 2024 season runs from 28 May to 10 August. For full details of all events and initiatives, and to book tickets, visit the OHP website.

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