World premières, stunning surroundings, a Grade-I listed building, not one but two resident orchestras, and landscaping restoration by Kim Wilkie and Alan Titchmarsh to boot: as opera festivals go, there aren’t really many boxes that The Grange Festival have left unticked. As the beginning of their inaugural season in June looms ever closer, the team behind the UK’s newest country house opera festival have certainly strived to ensure that it makes a resounding impression.
There are many reasons why The Grange Festival is more than just another ‘country-house opera festival’, though. For one, it is uniquely placed within UK opera in that it is the only opera festival in the country that has a singer as its Artistic Director: the countertenor Michael Chance, whose international reputation as a performer and director spans over thirty years, and so brings his considerable knowledge and expertise to the fore, a fact that will surely excite opera buffs around the country. It was also recently announced that Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the Academy of Ancient Music are to be their Orchestras in Residence; further confirmation, if needed, of the many ways in which The Grange Festival are showing that they mean business.
In addition to this, it’s also difficult to think of a more stunning location than this neo-classical mansion hidden away in the heart of the Hampshire countryside. Arguably, The Grange itself plays an invaluable role in the festival in that both the surroundings and the building are all a major part of the experience: a Grade-I listed building under the guardianship of English Heritage, with the striking contrast of Greek revival architecture set against gorgeous views of the English countryside is nothing short of breath-taking.
If it wasn’t already impressive enough, restoration work is currently being completed on the grounds by landscape architect Kim Wilkie and Alan Titchmarsh. Along with restoring the park to its original Arcadian vision, work is being done to emphasise views of the ornamental lakes, while picnic pavilions are being created to enable opera-goers to enjoy the grounds of The Grange more than ever. The new team have also put in place a shuttle bus, the Festival Express, which will take guests to and from Basingstoke station, making it much easier than in previous years to access the fabulous estate.
If you’re staging an opera festival in surroundings as spectacular as these, you also need the music to match it: a challenge that The Grange Festival has risen to with considerable aplomb. From Monteverdi’s Il ritornod’Ulisse in patria, one of the earliest operas, through to the world première of Jonathan Dove’s orchestral version of Mansfield Park, nearly 400 years of music is covered in this season’s programme.
The all-time favourites Bizet’s Carmen (interestingly making its first ever appearance at The Grange theatre this year) and Verdi’s Requiem mean opera-goers will be spoilt for choice. With world-class orchestras and performers, a setting that is perhaps unrivalled throughout the whole of the country, and a programme sure to delight seasoned festival-goers as well as those perhaps making their first visit to The Grange, there really is no excuse to miss the launch of the UK’s newest opera festival.
The Grange Festival opens on 7 June 2017, Northington, Alresford, Hampshire SO24 9TG. Tickets starting from £20. Fine dining packages available. For more information and to book tickets please visit the website or telephone the Box Office on 01962 791020.