Judged by the standard of its recent seasons, West Green House Opera is surely a contender for the title of most underrated summer opera venue in the country. Situated near Winchfield, it may simply be its small size that means it is not always uttered in the same breath as Glyndebourne, Garsington and the Granges, but its intimacy is actually a selling point.
West Green House is built around gardens that constitute a visitor attraction in their own right, and so there is always much to see. Arriving early is consequently to be recommended to make the most of the setting, which includes water and walled gardens as well as a beautiful lakeside area where everyone picnics. On a good day when the sun reflects on the water and highlights the various shades of green that lie all around, the beauty of this place would be a match for anywhere in the country. Night time scenes are no less impressive when the gardens are illuminated, making a return visit to the lakeside area after the opera something of a must if you are attending an evening performance.
The opera season lasts a mere ten days, but much is packed into that time as two full-scale productions rub shoulders with other performances and events. Each summer the glass and steel opera house, known as the Green Theatre, is placed on the opposite side of the gardens to the lake, and past directors have proved astute at playing on its intimacy (it seats 400). West Green House has also been successful at securing major talent so that last year Rebecca Nash, who has played Senta for Seattle Opera, was Amelia in Un ballo in maschera, and Heather Engebretson, who has appeared as Barbarina and Sophie (Werther) for the Royal Opera, was Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail.
There is a particular reason to be excited about the 2018 season, which is that both of its main Green Theatre productions are led by director and designer Richard Studer and conductor Jonathan Lyness. They might reasonably be described as West Green House’s ‘dream team’, having had such successes for the company as Ariadne auf Naxos in 2015 and Un ballo in maschera last year.
With this year marking the centenary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth the first main production is Candide (21 and 29 July), which will utilise John Caird’s 1999 National Theatre version and be the first time that the venue has ever staged the work. Candide is sung by Robin Bailey and Cunegonde by Fflur Wyn. Pangloss will be played by Ben McAteer, who appeared as Guglielmo here in 2016 and recently played the Earl of Mountararat in Iolanthe for English National Opera, while Katherine Marriott will appear as The Old Lady. The second main production is Madama Butterfly which also be performed for the first time at the venue (in Italian with surtitles) on 26 and 28 July. Katie Bird sings Cio-Cio-San and Robyn Lyn Evans, Pinkerton. Catherine Backhouse plays Suzuki while Robert Davies takes on the role of Sharpless.
In addition to these two operas, the final week of July sees many daytime and evening events grace the garden’s Lakeside Pavilion. Offenbach’s four hander Ba-ta-clan, recognised as his first significant critical and commercial success, will be presented on the evening of 25 July and afternoon of 28 July. This could be something special because it is produced by the same team as was behind last year’s Rita by Donizetti. This comprises conductor James Sherlock and director Morag Joss, who is best known for writing psychological thrillers and like last year has produced a brand new libretto for the opera. Their dynamic and entertaining rendering of Rita was, despite only being a chamber opera, one of the best productions from any summer opera venue in 2017.
Other events include a celebrity lunch (26 July) in which Gyles Brandreth presents his one-man show Break a Leg! where he talks about his life in entertainment, the stars he has known and the theatre stories that have made him laugh. We are told to expect ‘wit, wisdom, high drama, low comedy and hilarious name-dropping’. There are also two Midday Music events (22 and 29 July) and one of the delights of this year’s festival is that on the final weekend it is possible to enjoy one of these or Ba-ta-clan alongside a main production in the Green Theatre in a single day. In fact, a visit that covered a whole weekend would, including the Friday evening, provide the opportunity to enjoy up to five different performances.
A further event will be held twice in the larger venue. On 20 and 27 July Marvellous Party! will focus on Cole Porter and Noel Coward songs such as ‘Let’s do it’, ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’, ‘Anything Goes’, ‘I’ve been to a Marvellous Party’ ‘Night and Day’ and ‘Mad about the Boy’. Central to both performances will be the Simon Bates Big Band, which earned major plaudits for a similarly styled event entitled Celebrating Gershwin! last year. Musical supremo Harry the Piano also performs on 27 July and both concerts will offer something entirely different, meaning that it could even be worthwhile to book for both.
The West Green House Opera season runs from 20 to 29 July 2018. For details of all events and tickets visit the West Green House Opera website.