Rather like a fairy tale, the story of Grange Park Opera begins with a Duchess – The Duchess of Roxburghe. When she died, aged 99, she couldn’t have imagined that her ashes would be carefully placed in the orchestra pit of an opera house – and a rather extraordinary opera house at that. Modelled on the horseshoe shape of La Scala and erected at lightning speed, The Theatre in the Woods was tucked behind ancient walled gardens where children ran amok and fierce games of croquet were thrashed out.
Welcome to The Theatre in the Woods, 21st-century Britain’s first new opera house and the new home of Grange Park Opera, which was unveiled to great acclaim in summer 2017. Since then, more than 30,000 have visited the five-tier opera house at 500-year-old West Horsley Place, on the edge of London and close to the Surrey Hills.
Founded in 1998 by Wasfi Kani, OBE, the company has already staged more than 50 operas, including acclaimed productions of Rusalka, Tristan und Isolde and Peter Grimes.
Fiddler on the Roof with Bryn Terfel was staged as part of the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall and on the list for next season is Engelbert Humperdinck’s ever-popular Hansel & Gretel, Gershwin’s classic Porgy & Bess and Verdi’s Don Carlo. In addition to these three productions, Grange Park Opera is also delighted that the glamorous and celebrated American mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato, will give a special recital on 11 July and that the season will round off with a final fling provided by charismatic baritone Simon Keenlyside and his jazz friends.
As Wasfi Kani says, ‘You don’t need to know anything about opera to enjoy it. Just immerse yourself – 70 people in the orchestra, 50 people on stage, all performing live, right in front of you. There is no right or wrong on what one should feel. Just feel it.’
Grange Park Opera has also become established as an integral part of the British summer season. The audience, usually, but not exclusively, dressed in black tie and cocktail dresses, arrive in the afternoon and there are also 47 vintage cars available to ferry them down from London in style if required, or collect them from the railway station. They can enjoy a glass of champagne at The White Wisteria Champagne Bar on arrival and wander at leisure through this magical demi-Eden.
In the long, social interval, the audience can settle into The Walnut Tree Restaurant or the restaurant inside the 15th-century house, where Henry VIII once enjoyed a 35-course luncheon. Alternatively, they can book one of the picnic pavilions in the Crinkle-Crankle garden, on the Croquet Lawn or in the Rose Parterre, or just fling their rugs under an ancient gnarled tree in the orchard and enjoy an al fresco picnic in a gorgeous setting. When the opera ends, the audience walks out into magical moonlit English woodland, watched by fireflies and, just maybe, fairies too….
Grange Park Opera West Horsley, surrey KT24 6AN +44 (0)1962 737373