COVID-19 demanded changes to the festival last year, but these proved so successful that the venue is sticking with them.
Situated near Winchfield in Hampshire, West Green House Opera may be smaller than Glyndebourne, Garsington or the Granges, but it always delivers high quality performances while the intimacy and beauty of the venue are selling points in their own right.
Unlike any of the other players, West Green House’s festival is built around gardens that can be visited for most of the year, 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. 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.
Last year uncertainty over COVID-19 led West Green House to hold the majority of its performances not in its Green Theatre, but on a stage that had been built out from the small island that occupies the centre of the lake. The lakeside where people normally picnicked thus doubled as the ‘auditorium’ as a series of marquees that remained open on one side were erected. Before, it was a joy to emerge from the opera to see the gardens all lit up in different colours, but last year the illuminated trees actually formed a backdrop to the action after it turned dark. With the occasional fish jumping in the lake, swan gliding by or duck flying overhead, it was hard to picture the surroundings being any more idyllic. In fact, it was all so beautiful that West Green House promptly decided to stick with this format for its coming season!
The festival 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 opera is Le nozze di Figaro (23 and 24 July), which features what might be dubbed West Green House Opera’s ‘dream team’, comprising director and designer Richard Studer and conductor Jonathan Lyness, who have had such successes at the venue 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 produce simple yet effective stagings that maximise upon what is already inherent in the opera. His Die Fledermaus three years ago proved to be extremely dynamic, while last year’s La rondine was set up so that we engaged with the protagonists’ emotional journeys every step of the way. Figaro can be successfully played in a variety of ways, so it will be interesting to see exactly what approach he chooses to take.
The second main production is L’elisir d’amore (30 and 31 July). It will be directed by Victoria Newlyn who has had several notable triumphs here including Così fan tutte (2016) and La Cenerentola (2019). It is conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren, a former English National Opera Mackerras Fellow who conducted La Cenerentola here and whose many credits at Opera Holland Park include Les pêcheurs de perles (2013), Il barbiere di Siviglia (2014), Lakmé (2015)‚ La bohème (2016)‚ La rondine (2017), La traviata (2018 and 2021) and Un ballo in maschera (2019).
“…the beauty of this place would be a match for anywhere in the country”
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. From 2019 the spirit of providing an evening that focuses more on popular culture has been retained, but by presenting a full musical in concert. Guys and Dolls appeared three years ago and Gigi in 2021, and this year the choice is High Society (29 July). It features such hits as ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’, ‘You’re Sensational’ and ‘True Love’, and the lake setting would feel rather appropriate for a work whose action occurs at the Lord family’s waterfront estate in Oyster Bay.
Soprano Kirsty Hopkins is the artistic director of West Green House Opera, and this year the season begins with a concert performance by The Sixteen, with whom she sings, of Acis and Galatea (22 July). It will feature five singers and nine instrumentalists without a conductor, thus ensuring that the musical forces are identical to those used by Handel at its premiere in 1718.
Away from the Theatre on the Lake, an Early Music Evening will be held on 26 July. Played out in front of the seventeenth century facade of West Green House itself, it begins with a late afternoon concert of English lute songs in the Green House. This will feature Miriam Allan, the soprano who sang at the funeral of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and Britain’s most celebrated lutenist Elizabeth Kenny. This will be followed by a two course dinner before an evening concert entitled Purcell, A Moste Pleasante Evening of Musike of Damsels, Fairies & Legend will be performed in the Theatre Lawn Pavilion. This will see acclaimed conductor and harpsichordist Christopher Bucknall, a period instrument ensemble and four singers present music from such works as The Fairy Queen and King Arthur.
On each of the season’s Saturdays at 12 noon there will be an hour long concert in the Green House. Entitled A Tribute to Verdi and Friends (23 July) and A Tribute to Puccini and Friends (30 July) they will see two singers in each instance present a selection of their favourite arias and duets, accompanied by a guest pianist. Then on each of the Sundays (24 and 31 July) there will be Lunchtime Proms events that 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 either weekend (including the Friday evening) would enable attendance at no less than four different events.
West Green House Opera’s 2022 season runs from 22 to 31 July. For further details and tickets visit the West Green House Opera website.