There were those who wondered how long Garsington Opera would be able to continue and to survive when it finally had to depart Garsington Manor, a few years after the death of Garsington founder Leonard Ingrams in 2005, but they reckoned without the extraordinary loyalty – and fund-raising ability – of a core audience that had come to love a distinct alternative to Glyndebourne for a short summer season of opera in Oxfordshire each year. So, two years ago, and over £3 million worth of building later, the Garsington team made the short move to a purpose-built opera pavilion on the Wormsley Estate in Buckinghamshire and it is there – in a structure that has so far won half a dozen prestigious architectural awards – that the 2013 season, Garsington Opera’s third in its new home, will begin. The curtain rises on Friday 7 June with Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail and falls, after twenty-four performances of three very different operas, on Thursday 11 July with Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel. So with just over a month to go, how is the 2013 season shaping up?
I caught up with conductor Douglas Boyd, newly appointed Artistic Director of Garsington Opera in succession to Anthony Whitworth-Jones, and asked him the question. Boyd gave a refreshingly honest reply: “I can take absolutely no credit for the planning of this season! Anthony has created a festival designed to move, entertain and challenge, and I’m sure that it will. My own planning doesn't really begin until 2015 although we are busy preparing that now as well as, of course, supporting this exciting 2013 season”.
So what is so special about running Garsington Opera? Once again, Boyd is clear. “I’ve conducted three times for the company, Fidelio, The Marriage of Figaro and, last year, Don Giovanni, and I can say that making music with this group of people has been a complete joy. There was the original credo of founder Leonard Ingrams to build on, and Anthony and his dedicated team have championed remarkable talent and, unusually in the operatic world, have included the conductors and directors at every stage of the production process. I intend to continue that ethos in the future”.
What does that mean in terms of repertoire? What can we expect from the Boyd years? “The summer programme here has managed to balance some remarkable productions of much loved operas with lesser known works, and that will continue. We shall also continue to have Mozart at the heart of our work, as well as searching for lesser known gems and operas which have never been performed here. One exciting new aspect is the remarkable space at Wormsley and this can figure in our choice of repertoire - the intimacy of a 600 seat theatre with the possibility of larger scale productions on the bigger stage of our Opera Pavilion. And finally I’d like to commission a world premiere at Wormsley, by the end of the decade. Birtwistle’s The Minotaur, Adès’s The Tempest and Benjamin’s Written on Skin all show that modern music can be successful and popular. New work is such an important part of being an artist- and it also raises the profile and attracts interest from all over the world”. In other words, watch this space!
But back to the 2013 season, just weeks away. What are you looking forward to? “Everything, really - we have managed to extend our season by three extra performances this year, so we are delighted that more people have an opportunity to visit us and tickets can be booked online. But for me, the Hänsel und Gretel promises to be a particular highlight – it’s a magical retelling of this familiar tale, transporting viewers to a dream world of lost children, spell-bound forests and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. The set is particularly intriguing, with 40 felled trees from a plantation in Leicestershire, a giant book made of carpet and canvas, and a forest floor covered in over 3,000 bark chippings!” This new production by Olivia Fuchs is conducted by Martin André and stars Claudia Huckle and Anna Devin. Boyd’s enthusiasm for a slightly different take on this work is obvious, and he goes on to describe it as “ideal for us at Wormsley”.
But there is another operatic rarety onstage at Wormsley this year, the UK premiere of Rossini’s grand, five act tragic opera of 1820 Maometto Secondo, revised by the composer six years later for Paris and rechristened Le siege de Corinthe. I manage to catch a few minutes, between rehearsals, with director Edward Dick, whose first ever opera production a few years back, at Snape Maltings, was a fascinating Rape of Lucretia. On that occasion, as this year, Dick is working with conductor David Parry, an association he is clearly enjoying. “He and I see the piece in very much the same way, as a great piece of music theatre. It is going to be a big evening in the Pavilion – it has to be – because the way Rossini has written it calls for something big, bold and dramatic. And the fact that the audience can look out into the open air, into the park that surrounds the Pavilion at Wormsley, helps me to make the grand statement that the piece demands. In some ways it looks forward to Verdi – there’s the whole father/daughter relationship, and the tragic ending, but the piece has some amazing challenges all of its own – the so-called ‘fat trio’ for example, that goes on and on in virtuoso fashion. And we’re incredibly lucky to have (tenor) Paul Nilon, who will be amazing in the role of Paolo. I feel incredibly privileged to have been entrusted with this work”.
But back to Douglas Boyd, for a final word on the Garsington Opera ethos and on the sorts of plans he is beginning to make. What guides him? “I would say aim for excellence and the audience will follow you. Balance each year, whether it is between buffo and seria, or romantic, large scale works and chamber operas as well as defining artistic themes or threads over a number of years which intrigue and delight the audience. It would be my dream to develop Wormsley as a place where audiences know they would be guaranteed a wonderful Mozart opera performance, with a Mozart house style, with individual perspectives but which share a sense of the text and of the miracle of Mozart's music”.
“We are also planning a Beethoven weekend next year, which will include Fidelio (a revival of the 2009 production) and a performance of the 9th symphony the next day. We’ll link the themes of brotherhood, freedom from oppression and sacrifice which run through the opera, Egmont and the Ninth Symphony. With the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War taking place in 2014, these themes are ever more relevant”
But for now it is back to the 2013 season, and opening night in a few short weeks time. The sense of excitement, and purpose, is palpable. I shall be at the first night of Entführung and shall report back on this site. It’s a pleasing and exciting prospect
See also thier website.
Photos: Mike Hoban