TAITMAIL You couldn’t sing an aria about it
Someone HAS to write an opera about opera. Better, a soap opera. Sex, death, plot lurches, vast personalities and gorgeous costumes, it's all there.
We’re on the threshold of the season of country house opera, and on June 6 two Grange opera festivals will open on the same day 40 miles from eachother, with their very separate programmes, but each started by the same high octane woman.
Meanwhile, at the Coliseum the artistic director, Daniel Kramer, has announced perhaps ENO’s most ambitious programme (including a ballet dancer making his opera directorial debut), declaring his undying devotion to the company, the theatre and the programme. Within days he had left, remaining only vestigially as “artistic advisor”.
And his predecessor at ENO, the brilliant but wayward John Berry who was defenestrated under a previous regime for busting his budget too often, has this week announced his new adventure which will manifest itself at the Royal Festival Hall in three weeks’ time.
In 1998 the conductor Wafsi Kani, whose first company was Pimlico Opera which made its name producing full scale operas inside prisons, began Grange Park Opera at Grange Park, Normington near Winchester, owned by the Baring banker Lord Ashburton. She built a theatre inside the old orangery and it operated happily for 18 years. But then there was a falling out, apparently over a new lease agreement, and Wafsi was offski.
Image shows rehearsals for Don Carlo at Grange Park Opera
But barely had she slammed the door behind her, on the other side of the Downs a 15thcentury door was creaking open for her. A scholarly, octogenarian former TV quiz presenter had unexpectedly inherited a tumble-down pile from a 99-year-old eccentric duchess of a great-aunt, set in 350 sylvan acres. Wafsi sent him an email, and in a few months she was already building her version of La Scala Milan in a wood clearing a few yards from the old manor house.
She’s had two seasons in it now, but this time it will be complete, with its wood column colonnade and its “Lavatorium Rotunda” the size of an average railway station. Her 700-seat Theatre in the Woods is lovely and crazy, with a model railway chugging around under the floor of the first corridor, mint pre-decimal currency coins, 50,000 of them donated by well-wishers, fixed in the resin floors outside the four balconies above, forgotten possessions of the old duchess found in her house after she died displayed as “Mary Roxburghe’s Museum”, and a huge head of Igor Stravinsky looking stunned as it glowers at incoming opera-goers.
ENO’s three year whirlwind romance with Daniel Kramer, a charming, mercurial, passionate 42-year-old American who started his career in mime and circus, ended abruptly in April apparently after a difference of opinion with the new CEO, a former TV producer. His time included an acclaimed Britten Requiem, an abysmal Traviata and a Magic Flute that had the orchestra and effects team included in the on-stage action.
So what does a chap with a background in dance, theatre, musical theatre and opera, not to mention juggling, do next? Well, he could do worse than sit at the feet of his predecessor for a moment or two. John Berry was never convinced there was a heavily drawn line between music theatre and opera, and with The Light in The Piazza he sets out to prove it.
This is the piece written by Adam Guettel, grandson of Richard Rodgers (The Hammerstein one, not the architectural Rogers), and won a Tony in 2005. It stars the opera diva Renée Fleming, 23-year-old Dove Cameron who is best known for her appearance in a Disney Channel soap called Liv and Maddie, and the British TV and theatre actor Alex Jennings. To complete the diversity, the music is provided by a 40-piece Opera North Orchestra, and the director is Chichester Festival Theatre’s Daniel Evans. The first production of Berry’s new company Scenario Two, the show - a kind of La Dolce Vita with tunes – will do 20 performances at the Southbank Centre before hot-footing it to LA, Chicago, Sydney, Toronto and maybe New York.
What a story, and the perfect end, of course, is when Wafsi Kani becomes the new artistic director of ENO and presents Aida sung by the inmates of Wormwood Scrubs… but then, a soap opera never ends.