A notably full programme from the only summer opera venue in the heart of London.
In what were still uncertain times last summer, it was impressive to see just how well Opera Holland Park rose to the challenges posed by COVID-19. Set designer takis reimagined the entire stage and auditorium that lies beneath the venue’s canopied roof, reducing capacity from 1,000 to 400 seats, and facilitating social distancing with moveable chairs. The operas presented used effective reduced orchestrations and, by ensuring that the stage actually surrounded the orchestra, there could be a real sense of immediacy to the drama when the performers sang in front of it.
This year the theatre’s total capacity, though increasing from 400 to approximately 700, will remain just as flexible. In this way it will use the same footprint as last year, while improving sight lines and introducing additional levels, to produce a season that looks as exciting as it is undoubtedly varied, as five main productions rub shoulders with a host of other performances and events.
The season opens on 31 May with Eugene Onegin. The venue had notable triumphs with The Queen of Spades in 2016 and Iolanta in 2019, and so hopes can only be high for the staging of Tchaikovsky’s most frequently performed opera, directed by Julia Burbach who triumphed with L’amico Fritz here last year. This is especially so since it boasts luxury casting with Anush Hovhannisyan playing Tatyana, Samuel Dale Johnson singing Onegin, Thomas Atkins taking on Lensky and Amanda Roocroft assuming the role of Madame Larina. One can already picture the latter putting in the same class of performance as Rosalind Plowright did as the Countess in The Queen of Spades. The evening is conducted by Lada Valešová, who also led the same work for West Green House Opera last year when she elicited a notably sensitive sound from the orchestra. The designer is takis, whose significant contributions to Holland Park, alongside the present theatre, include La traviata (2018 and 2021), Un ballo in maschera (2019), La rondine (2017) and Die Fledermaus (2016). 13 and 23 June are Young Artists Performances, which feature a largely different cast and creative team including conductor Hannah von Wiehler.
Carmen appears from 2 June and will be directed by Former Opera Holland Park Young Artist Cecilia Stinton. Kezia Bienek, who played Dorothée for the Glyndebourne Tour’s 2018 production of Cendrillon, takes on the title role, while Oliver Johnston plays Don José, Alison Langer, who was Oscar in Un ballo in maschera here in 2019, sings Micaëla and Thomas Mole takes on Escamillo. Conductor Lee Reynolds makes his company debut (Associate Conductor Sonia Ben-Santamaria leads the performances on 12 and 14 June) alongside the Spanish choreographer Isabel Baquero in what promises to be ‘a vibrant, clear-sighted and provocative reading of the opera’.
“…the theatre… will… produce a season that looks as exciting as it is undoubtedly varied…”
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 creations by Wolf-Ferrari, Cilea, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Montemezzi and Catalani, but this year it is performing a rarity by Puccini himself. In 2018 Opera Rara presented the initial one-act version of his first opera Le Willis at the Royal Festival Hall, but Holland Park will be performing the two-act version Le Villi (from 21 July), which includes several beautiful arias that are absent from its predecessor. It is directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans, who we have never known to stage a bad production at Holland Park, and whose list of credits here includes Mascagni’s Isabeau (2018), La rondine (2017), Die Fledermaus (2016), Il trittico and L’amore dei tre Re (both last performed in 2015), Adriana Lecouvreur (2014) and I gioielli della Madonna (2013). The conductor is Francesco Cilluffo and the designer takis, while the cast comprises three Holland Park regulars, namely Anne Sophie Duprels as Anna, Peter Auty as Roberto and Stephen Gadd as Guglielmo. This work is coupled with Delius’ only verismo opera Margot la Rouge, ‘a scalding reunion between two former lovers in a Parisian dive’, in which the production team remains exactly the same. Duprels sings Margot, and Samuel Sakker and Paul Carey Jones, who stood out in L’arlesiana and Manon Lescaut respectively in 2019, play Sergeant Thibault and L’Artiste. They are joined by several other OHP stalwarts including Laura Woods as La Patron and George von Bergen as the First Soldier.
Based on Louisa May Alcott’s coming of age novel, Mark Adamo’s 1988 opera Little Women may already be acclaimed as a modern masterpiece in America, but its presentation at OHP from 22 July will constitute its UK premiere. Sian Edwards, who led Kát’a Kabanová here in 2017, conducts (with Associate Conductor Scott Wilson leading on 3 and 5 August) while Ella Marchment, who directed The Turn of the Screw (2019) and Noah Moseley’s Mad King Suibhne (2017) for Bury Court Opera, makes her directorial debut at the venue. The designer is Madeleine Boyd, while the March sisters themselves will be played by Charlotte Badham (Jo), Kitty Whately (Meg), Harriet Eyley (Beth) and Elizabeth Karani (Amy).
HMS Pinafore (from 9 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 twenty years, but one wonders if an operetta from this partnership will now become a regular feature each year. It is directed by John Savournin, who also plays Captain Corcoran, while the conductor is David Eaton and the designer Madeleine Boyd once more. Peter Kirk sings Ralph Rackstraw, Frederick Long Dick Deadeye, Llio Evans Josephine, Sophie Dicks Cousin Hebe and Lucy Schaufer Mrs Cripps (Little Buttercup). Savournin also played Corcoran in English National Opera’s production, directed by Cal McCrystal, in October 2021, but this version sees the part of Sir Joseph Porter in far safer hands than those offered by Les Dennis, with Richard Burkhard demonstrating both his brilliant singing and acting credentials, alongside Savournin and Clare Presland, in OHP’s recent online production of Walton’s The Bear.
The City of London Sinfonia constitutes the orchestra for all of the above productions, while every opera will be performed in its original language with English surtitles. One performance of each production will be an Audio-described and Relaxed Performance, and another will feature a pre-performance talk that can also be booked.
Opera in Song, a recital series curated by Julien Van Mellaerts and Dylan Perez that explores the characters and storylines of featured works through songs by different composers, will also return in the 2022 season (28 June to 3 July). The programme of six recitals will include a portrait of Carmen in song, a celebration of female composers and librettists, a survey of classic and classical American songs, and three programmes of Schubert song cycles given fresh contexts in poetry and music. Participating artists include Louise Alder, James Baillieu, Adèle Charvet, Francesca Chiejina, Kunal Lahiry, Simon Lepper, Gary Matthewman, Ema Nikolovska, Ella O’Neill, Alex Otterburn and Roderick Williams. On 1 July is the hour-long event Green Spaces: A Celebration in Song in which Hannah Saddison is joined by Lana Bode, Alessandro Fisher and Alison Langer to present a world premiere of three newly commissioned song cycles by Mark-Anthony Turnage, Zoë Martlew and Amelia Clarkson on the theme of parks during the pandemic. Texts include poetry by William Blake, D.H. Lawrence, Rudyard Kipling and John Keats, while three young creative writers also contribute poetry expressing their own experiences of nature during the lockdowns.
Between 6 and 9 July The Royal Ballet School, which has a long association with Holland Park, will present a rich, diverse programme of dance across five performances. British Youth Opera, on the other hand, was only seen at Holland Park for the first time last year, but it returns this year, taking participants through the process of putting on a full-scale opera production, and kick-starting the careers of young singers as well as those in creative and technical roles. This will culminate in four performances of Vaughan Williams’ Sir John in Love from 24 to 27 August.
Additional performances in the calendar include two spoken word events, Sunday in the Park, in which Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi appear at 15.00 on 26 June, and explorer Ranulph Fiennes leads an event entitled Living Dangerously at 19.30 on 24 July. Fifth Door Ensemble also returns to Opera Holland Park to perform chamber arrangements of Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle on 21 and 28 August, while 30 June sees the OHP debut of the period instruments ensemble Figure in a semi-staged performance of Handel’s Serse. The season also includes Waterperry Opera Festival’s family-friendly production of Peter and the Wolf (2 July) while every month between April and August 2022 sees OperaUNITY present a free to attend family workshop full of music, dance and storytelling, with each session exploring one of the season’s productions.
• Opera Holland Park’s 2022 season runs from 31 May to 28 August. For full details of all events and to book tickets visit the OHP website.