While Glyndebourne, Garsington, Grange Park and West Green House all offer that peerless summer opera experience, there is one venue in the heart of London which gives you a taste of that bucolic bliss. It is Opera Holland Park where the tented auditorium is nestled amidst beautiful surroundings, and where the ruined Holland House forms a permanent backdrop to the stage. This haven of tranquillity is just a ten minute walk from High Street Kensington underground, but is not only accessible in terms of transport. Since it is somewhere to which you devote the evening rather than the whole day, there is no need to book time off work and, while there is nothing to stop you from going to town, there are not the same strict dress codes as apply at the other venues.
The most intriguing aspect of Opera Holland Park’s 2015 season is just how little it has gone for the tried and tested. Every year the season includes at least one operatic rarity (in 2012 it was Mascagni’s Zanetto, in 2013 Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s I gioielli della Madonna and in 2014 Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur), but this year there is only one opera, Aida, that could really be classed as a mainstay of the operatic repertoire.
Even Il trittico (2 June onwards) does not receive that many outings, although this is a consequence of the resources required to stage it as opposed to any doubts concerning its worth. In this respect, Opera Holland Park has chosen an ambitious opener to the season, but hopes are high as the third opera in Puccini’s triptych, Gianni Schicchi, enjoyed an outing in 2012. It was directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans who brought an excellent Adriana Lecouvrer here last year, and now directs Suor Angelica.
Gianni Schicchi itself is revived by Oliver Platt (who also directs Il tabarro) and it will be interesting to see what effect a new pair of eyes will have on it. Platt’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles in 2013 was not one of the season’s highlights, but his Il barbiere di Siviglia last year certainly was, being both innovative and as genuinely funny as any production I can recall. The three operas naturally require a large overall cast, but keep an eye out for Jeff Gwaltney who played Dick Johnson in La fanciulla del West last year and more recently Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly at the Royal Albert Hall, and Stephen Gadd who was tremendous as Alfio and Tonio in Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci in 2013.
Opera Holland Park has little history of staging recent works, but there again it had no history of staging Benjamin Britten when it delivered a notable The Turn of the Screw last year. This summer it is tackling Jonathan Dove’s Flight of 1998 (from 6 June), and since the piece was originally commissioned for Glyndebourne there is every reason to believe it will work well in this summer setting. Set in the departure lounge of an unspecified airport, the work has always been highly acclaimed and it is directed by Stephen Barlow who was responsible for Cav and Pag in 2013 and La fanciulla last year. The cast includes Kitty Whately who was a brilliant Rosina in Il barbiere, and Ellie Laugharne who was excellent as the Governess in The Turn of the Screw and as Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro at the Coliseum last October.
Aida (which starts on 24 June) is a deceptively difficult piece to stage since, as so many productions have revealed, it is not easy to capture the necessary sense of exoticism without making the experience feel hollow and overblown. All that can be said is that Holland Park with its large and notably broad stage has as good a chance as any of pulling it off. Directed by Daniel Slater, it certainly boasts an excellent cast, which includes Gweneth-Ann Jeffers, Peter Auty, Graeme Broadbent and Heather Shipp. The latter in particular put in possibly the performance of a lifetime as Adalgisa in Norma here last year.
Léo Delibes’ Lakmé (from 9 July) is not so frequently performed, but Aylin Bozok’s production will surely prove that there is more to it than just the famous ‘Flower Duet’. It should prove perfect fare for a balmy summer’s evening and the cast includes up-and-coming (though already proven) names such as Fflur Wyn and Katie Bray, alongside more established performers like Robert Murray and David Soar. It is conducted by Matthew Waldren who is just one of several very good conductors to be wielding the baton over the season.
The final opera is a revival of Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (from 22 July). Directed both in 2007 and now by Martin Lloyd-Evans, this 90-minute piece (with no interval) has it all: drama, passion, murderous rage, jealousy, forgiveness and sacrifice. It is acclaimed as one of the best productions Opera Holland Park has ever staged and the reviews it received say it all.
There is also something for the children. Five minutes from the main stage on the Yucca Lawn is the second revival of Will Todd’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland of 2013 (selected afternoons from 19 July). With the audience moving to different locations around the lawn for the various scenes, a short running time and tickets costing just £5, the experience should keep the adults just as entertained as the little ones.
Opera Holland Park’s 2015 season runs from 2 June to 1 August. For full details and tickets visit the Opera Holland Park website.