Located 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 whilst 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. Nighttime scenes are no less impressive with the gardens 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. In 2018 it began this process by experimenting with different locations for its temporary Green Theatre, and it will be interesting to see just how far it has got with producing plans for the new theatre by this summer.
The opera season lasts a mere ten days, but much is packed into that time as two full-scale productions rub shoulders with several other performances and events. The first main production is La rondine (18 and 19 July), which features what might be dubbed West Green House Opera’s ‘dream team’, comprising director and designer Richard Studer and conductor Jonathan Lyness. The pair have had such successes as Ariadne auf Naxos (2015), Un ballo in maschera (2017), Madama Butterfly and Candide (both 2018) and Die Fledermaus (2019). Studer’s strength has always rested on his ability to produce simple yet extremely effective stagings. Last year his Die Fledermaus proved to be highly dynamic, but this year it seems likely he will use his skills to ensure that we go on every step of the protagonists’ emotional journeys in Act III.
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. In addition, rising star Filipe Manu, who played Prince Ramiro in La Cenerentola here last year, has since made his Royal Opera House main stage debut playing Gastone de Letorières in La traviata. We have every reason to hope therefore that the second main production Eugene Onegin (25 and 26 July) has a touch of star quality about it. It is directed by Johnny Ramster and conducted by Lada Valešová, while Studer is the designer once more.
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. Last year the spirit of providing an evening that focuses more on popular culture was retained, but by presenting a hugely enjoyable Guys and Dolls in concert. This year the season opens with Gigi in concert on 17 July with Richard Balcombe conducting the Southbank Sinfonia Orchestra.
Howard Goodall’s Invictus: A Passion is being performed on 24 July under the direction of Howard Ionascu, and features fifty voices of The Chapel Choir of Winchester, soloists of The Sixteen Kirsty Hopkins and Mark Dobell and a chamber orchestra. On each of the Sundays (19 and 26 July) there will be Lunchtime Proms events in the Lakeside Pavilion that will enable audiences to hear the stars of the two main productions in a more intimate setting. On the two Saturdays (18 and 25 July) comes Around the World in 18 Arias, comprising an hour of opera, operetta and song based on Phileas Fogg’s journey. 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 either weekend (including the Friday evening) would enable attendance at no less than four different events.
West Green House Opera’s 2020 season runs from 17 to 26 July. For details of all events and tickets visit the West Green House Opera website.