For lovers of ‘country house opera’ there have been few more eagerly anticipated experiences than that offered by Grange Park Opera: wobbling down that rutted, stony track with the sudden sight of the magnificent half-ruined mansion, followed by tea in the marquee before an often innovative, always distinctive production in a little gem of a theatre and ending with the walk under those incredible ancient trees. Things are changing at The Grange, however, and the unhappy situation which seems to have occurred over the lease looks like being resolved in a way which will give opera lovers yet another venue for their summer enjoyment.
Wasfi Kani and Michael Moody, the co-founders of GPO, have tirelessly championed opera for 18 years in this glorious place, roping in sponsors, donors and enthusiasts and generally being the model for hands-on participation in every aspect of the endeavour. The opera directors and the Baring family, owners of The Grange, have now decided to part company following a disagreement over the terms of the lease, to the sadness of both parties, and so the 2016 season will be the last one from GPO at The Grange.
Enter Bamber Gascoigne, the erstwhile University Challenge presenter and now the slightly bemused inheritor of another wonderful old house, West Horsley Place in Surrey, which came to him courtesy of his aunt, the Duchess of Roxburghe. Although nothing is as yet finalized, it seems that West Horsley Place, pending ongoing negotiations, is set fair to be the new home of Grange Park Opera, which will retain its name wherever it goes – as Garsington Opera did when it moved to Wormsley. Further details are eagerly awaited, especially by those of us fortunate enough to live within easy distance of this potential new entrant to the competition for our summer afternoons.
Meanwhile, back at The Grange itself, a new company is being formed to continue the annual opera festival, with the inaugural season in 2017 and with the great Michael Chance, one of the finest of all countertenors both in recital and on stage, as its director. Re-named The Grange Festival, it’s still in the early stages but a Board of Trustees is under way under the chairmanship of Sir Charles Haddon-Cave.
Mark Baring paid tribute to the departing company, and in particular to the achievements of its co-founders, and Michael Chance said that he was looking forward to building on the 18-year operatic legacy at Grange Park. Both sounded confident that their new venture will be able to continue the high standards set in this exceptional venue. Whatever the precise nature of the details which are set to emerge over the coming months, the one thing that is certain is that opera lovers are set to benefit from having not one but two companies dedicated to building upon the achievements of Grange Park Opera.