In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.
(Tennyson, Locksley Hall)
Tennyson had a point, and it’s also true that for opera lovers both young and old, Spring is the time when our fancies turn, not so lightly, to thoughts of the Summer Opera Season to come. That’s hardly surprising, given that the Grange Festival opens for Public Booking on Wednesday 1 March, Glyndebourne Opera on Sunday 5 March, and Garsington Opera at Wormsley on Tuesday 4 April. Grange Park Opera at West Horsley Place has been ahead of the pack with their Public Booking open since January.
So, what are the picks of this year’s offerings? Obviously a personal choice, and each venue has something special to show this year, but for us Garsington Opera has the most delectable set of productions, both in terms of variety of works and choice of singers and directors. The two that stand out are Mozart’s Mitridate and Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, both with superb casts and distinguished direction. The former boasts Robert Murray in the title role, Elizabeth Watts as Aspasia and Iestyn Davies as Farnace: it’s directed by Tim Albery and The English Concert will be conducted by Clemens Schuldt.
Ariadne is cast from equal strength, with Natalya Romaniw in the title role and Jennifer France as Zerbinetta – the latter has been garnering rave reviews in the role in the Opera North production. The musical side will be in the capable hands of Mark Wigglesworth, and the director will be Bruno Ravella, well known for his outstanding production of Der Rosenkavalier in 2021.
Garsington will also feature productions of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia with Katie Bray as Rosina and Richard Burkhard as Dr Bartolo, and a revival of their wonderful Bartered Bride in which Smetana’s popular work was given a whole new approach – this one features too many vocal stars to name, but the stand-outs must be Pumeza Matshikiza as Mařenka and John Findon as Vašek.
Not to be outdone in terms of ambition, Grange Park Opera this year features three productions based around what might be called the theme of hopeless love. Tristan und Isolde begins the season, with a strong line up including Rachel Nicholls and Gwyn Hughes Jones as the lovers and Christine Rice and Matthew Rose as Brangäne and King Marke respectively. Next is Tosca featuring the Cavaradossi of the Georgian tenor Otar Jorjikia, fresh from singing the role at La Scala, and finally Massenet’s Werther, which features Leonardo Capalbo as the doomed poet and Ginger Costa-Jackson as Charlotte. The latter has been making quite a name for herself at many of the leading opera houses, so this one should be a season highlight.
“…each venue has something special to show this year…”
The Grange Festival offers an equally ambitious programme, beginning with a starrily cast CosÌ fan tutte conducted by Kirill Karabits and directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans. This is followed by a fascinating pairing, Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice with Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas: given that these works changed the course of opera, it’s surprising that they are not more frequently performed together. The Festival has assembled an impressive cast and production team for this endeavour, including Heather Lowe as Orfeo and Dido – she was a superb Cinderella here in 2021 – and James Newby as Aeneas. The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra, directed by Harry Christophers, return after their triumphant contribution to Belshazzar in 2019.
The final production at The Grange is surely one not to be missed; a superbly cast Queen of Spades, conducted by Paul Daniel and directed by Paul Curran. It’s a particular pleasure to note that the part of the Countess will be taken by Josephine Barstow. The role of Lisa will be sung by the star Armenian soprano Anush Hovhannisyan, and that of Herman by the Ukrainian tenor Eduard Martynyuk.
And so to the ‘daddy of them all’, Glyndebourne, the inspiration and still leader in the field of Summer Opera. First off at the idyllic Sussex site is a new Don Giovanni, directed by Mariame Clément and featuring Andrey Zhilikhovsky and Andrei Bondarenko sharing the title role, with Vera Gimadieva as Anna and Mikhail Timoshenko as Leporello. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment will be conducted by Evan Rogister.
Barrie Kosky, well known for his striking production of Handel’s Saul at Glyndebourne, will direct a new Dialogues des Carmelites, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Robin Ticciati and Sally Matthews in the role of Blanche – all exciting prospects. This will be the first staging of Poulenc’s powerful work in the house: another opera new to Glyndebourne is Handel’s Semele, cast from equal strength and conducted by the Period specialist Václav Luks, with Joélle Harvey in the title role and house favourite Stuart Jackson as Jupiter.
That looks like Summer sewn up for lovers of country house opera, with so much beyond the music to enjoy in the idyllic gardens and grounds of these very special places.
• Booking details and further information can be found here:
Garsington Opera – Grange Park Opera – The Grange Festival – Glyndebourne