Situated near Winchfield in Hampshire, West Green House Opera may be smaller than Glyndebourne, Garsington or the Granges, but, judged by the standards of its previous seasons, its output is highly accomplished while its intimacy is actually a selling point.
Unlike any of the other players, 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.
It is also a summer opera venue that is going places, as it has a long-term plan to replace its annually constructed theatre with a permanent opera house. Last year it began the process of experimenting with different locations for this beyond its walled garden. Whereas before the theatre was pressed right up against the house, that would not be a suitable location for a permanent structure as it would spoil the vista and provide an insufficient backstage area. As a result, 2018 saw its temporary Green Theatre moved to the adjacent meadow, and it worked well by allowing a larger auditorium to be constructed.
The opera season lasts a mere nine days, but much is packed into that time as two full-scale productions rub shoulders with several other performances and events. West Green House has also been successful at securing major talent so that in 2017 Rebecca Nash, who has played Senta for Seattle Opera, was Amelia in Un ballo in maschera, and Heather Engebretson, who has appeared as Barbarina, Sophie (Werther) and the Woodbird (Siegfried) for the Royal Opera, was Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail.
The first main production is Die Fledermaus (21 and 22 July) which, with its emphasis on (sometimes dark) humour, should be perfect fare for a summer’s evening. It reunites the talents of director and designer Richard Studer and conductor Jonathan Lyness, who have had such successes at West Green House as Ariadne auf Naxos (2015), Un ballo in maschera (2017), Madama Butterfly and Candide (both 2018). Studer’s strength has always rested on his ability to combine simple yet effective sets with dynamic and inventive stagings, and Die Fledermaus would thus seem to be the perfect opera on which to let him loose. This production will be sung in English.
The other main production is La Cenerentola (28 and 29 July), but it is not the only Rossini to appear at the 2019 festival. Across the other side of the walled garden to the Green Theatre, his rarely performed L’inganno felice will be performed in the Lakeside Pavilion (24 and 27 July), directed by Mark Burns. This continues a tradition of West Green House staging one-act, and generally comical, operas here, with Donizetti’s Rita in 2017 and Offenbach’s Ba-ta-clan in 2018 both proving highly entertaining.
Over the past few years, the season has also included concerts featuring the Simon Bates Big Band and Harry the Piano, with 2017 focusing on George Gershwin and 2018 on Cole Porter and Noel Coward. This year, the spirit of providing an evening that focuses more on popular culture will be retained, but this time by presenting Guys and Dolls in concert with the invited West Green House Orchestra on 26 July.
Finally, on each of the Sundays (21 and 28 July) there will be Midday Music events in the Lakeside Pavilion that, like last year, will enable audiences to hear the stars of the two main productions in a more intimate setting. This means that there are several days when it is possible to come to West Green House for more than one thing, while a trip for the final weekend (including the Friday evening) would enable attendance at no less than four different events.
The West Green House Opera season runs from 20 to 28 July 2019. For details of all events and tickets visit the West Green House Opera website.