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, in many cases, demanding no travelling at all. 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 atmosphere is both classy, as the tented auditorium sees the ruins of Holland House form a permanent backdrop to the stage, and relaxed, as there are not the same strict dress codes as apply at the other venues, even though there is nothing to stop anyone from dressing up if they wish.
The season begins with two great mainstays of the operatic repertoire, Eugene Onegin (from 2 June) and Rigoletto (from 6 June). The venue had notable triumphs with The Queen of Spades in 2016 and Iolanta in 2019, and so hopes can only be high for Julia Burbach’s staging of Tchaikovsky’s most frequently performed opera. This is especially so since it boasts luxury casting with Anush Hovhannisyan playing Tatyana, Samuel Dale Johnson singing Onegin, Nicky Spence Lenksy and Amanda Roocroft 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 Dane Lam, who has led many successes at the venue including Cilea’s L’arlesiana (2019), Così fan tutte (2018), Don Giovanni (2017) and La Cenerentola (2016), while the designer is takis, whose significant contributions to Holland Park have included Un ballo in maschera (2019), La traviata (2018), La rondine (2017) and Die Fledermaus (2016). 18 June sees the Young Artists Performance, which features a largely different cast and creative team.
Rigoletto is directed by Natascha Metherell and conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren, a former ENO Mackerras Fellow whose many previous triumphs at Holland Park include Un ballo in maschera (2019), La traviata (2018), La rondine (2017), La bohème (2016)‚ Lakmé (2015)‚ Il barbiere di Siviglia (2014) and Les pêcheurs de perles (2013). The designer is Alyson Cummins, while the cast sees Holland Park regular Stephen Gadd play Rigoletto, Anna Patalong sing Gilda, Matteo Desole the Duke of Mantua, Blaise Malaba Sparafucile and Hannah Pedley, recently seen in the title role in New Sussex Opera’s La belle Hélène, Maddalena. 21 June will see Holland Park host its first ever Discovery Matinee, with that day’s performance of Rigoletto being a relaxed performance featuring a Touch Tour, audio-description and accessible ticket pricing, to allow newcomers to discover opera.
In 2009 Holland Park presented Orpheus in the Underworld, and this year it is producing two operettas, namely The Merry Widow (from 18 July) and The Pirates of Penzance (from 4 August). The former is directed by Christopher Luscombe, who has directed for the Royal Shakespeare Company, conducted by John Andrews and choreographed by Ewan Jones. The cast sees Julia Sporsén, who was a tremendous Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos here in 2018, sing Hanna, Alex Otterburn Count Danilo, Alison Langer, who played Oscar in Un ballo in maschera here last year, Valencienne, Stephen Aviss Camille and John Savournin Baron Zeta. The Pirates of Penzance represents a collaboration with Charles Court Opera as well as the first Gilbert and Sullivan that Holland Park has presented in twenty years, and is directed by John Savournin, who also plays the Pirate King. Richard Burkhard sings Major-General Stanley, Peter Kirk Frederic, Yvonne Howard Ruth, Daisy Brown Mabel, and Trevor Eliot Bowes the Sergeant of Police. The conductor is David Eaton, the designer Rachel Szmukler and the choreographer Damian Czarnecki.
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 the other. It is directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans, whom 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 Anne Sophie Duprels, who has starred in many Italian operas here, sings Anna, Peter Auty plays Roberto and Stephen Gadd Guglielmo.
This work is coupled with Delius’ only verismo opera Margot la Rouge, 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. The City of London Sinfonia constitutes the orchestra for all of the productions, while every opera will be performed in its original language with English surtitles, with the exception of The Merry Widow where Victor Leon and Leo Stein’s libretto has been translated and adapted by Kit Hesketh Harvey and Giles Havergal.
Between 2 and 4 July The Royal Ballet School, which has a long association with Holland Park, will be performing a mixed programme of classical repertoire, and contemporary and character pieces, by an eclectic mix of choreographers including Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan, Marius Petipa, William Forsyth, Andrew McNicol and Didy Veldman. Finally, be sure to look out for a series of informative events taking place in the months running up to June, and before specific performances across the season.
Opera Holland Park’s 2020 season runs from 2 June to 8 August. For full details and tickets visit the Opera Holland Park website.