Start planning those picnics, folks, because Waterperry Opera Festival is definitely on for this summer – and it’s the biggest and most ambitious yet.
If you’re looking for the perfect outdoor event to celebrate a return to some sort of normality, then this is a strong contender.
Artistic Director and CEO Guy Withers, who founded the festival with Rebecca Meltzer in 2018, is delighted that the government’s planned roadmap out of lockdown gives the green light to outdoor summer events.
“It will be the perfect time for people to come out and enjoy some summer opera,” he says.
The programme has been designed to appeal to all ages and experiences, from seasoned opera-goers to young children, with no less than seven productions and a variety of workshops, masterclasses and talks spread across ten days.
“a big part of the festival is about encouraging people into natural spaces, where they can feel free, be imaginative, and explore works that engage with the world around them”
The main production is Donizetti’s sparkling comedy The Elixir of Love, which will take place on the lawn in front of the majestic Jacobean/Georgian Waterperry House.
There are also family-friendly productions of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel and Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, the return of Jonathan Dove’s song cycle Ariel, Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, and two productions in collaboration with Oxford Lieder, Lili Boulanger’s Clairières dans Le Ciel and Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge.
“It’s a real mix,” Guy says. “It’s about offering a broad range of experiences to our audience, and we hope we’ve provided something for everybody who would like to come.
“The Elixir of Love will hopefully be an opportunity for audiences to immerse themselves and engage with a really beautiful story, and remember what it’s like to think about the biggest questions of our lives, like love and relationships, so that unique power of opera is a really great thing to hold the festival together.
“Waterperry’s a great space for families, so it’s all about how we can engage everybody”
“But the festival is also about trying to show what opera can be. So the Hansel and Gretel project is specifically aimed at children and young audiences. That’s a big thing with our festival this year – it’s about engaging families.
“Hansel and Gretel will be immersive and it will take place in the woods at Waterperry, with a bespoke woodland stage, and the performances will be signed by a BSL performer. So that has been made to develop the next generation of audiences.”
Younger audiences can also delight in Prokofiev’s famous orchestral version of Peter and the Wolf.
“This will be for the very young, ages 2+, as an introduction to classical music,” Guy explains. “We’re trying to build opera audiences and classical music audiences, and Waterperry’s a great space for families, so it’s all about how we can engage everybody.”
“This year’s festival is our biggest and most ambitious yet, and we hope audiences will really respond to that”
There is also an emphasis this year on the importance of nature, with the festival making full use of Waterperry’s lovely gardens and woodlands.
“That’s a big part of the festival,” says Guy. “It’s about how we can get people outside of their houses, outside of lockdown, into natural spaces, where they can feel free, be imaginative, and explore works that are about engaging with the world around them.
“Hansel and Gretel, Peter and the Wolf, On Wenlock Edge, Clairière dans le Ciel and Ariel are all about nature, about the world around us, and I think that’s a great way to bring audiences back to Waterperry.”
An unusual inclusion this year is Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. “This is a really new and ambitious project for us,” says Guy. “It’s a late night performance, and it’s going to be accompanied by a light installation by a visual artist to mark the 80 years since it was composed in a Prisoner of War camp in Germany.”
Guy is keen to emphasise that there are contingency plans in case we don’t emerge from lockdown as quickly as hoped, and everything will be as Covid-safe as possible.
“We feel very confident that as long as people can be outside, and the government allows us, we can put on socially-distanced performances safely and comfortably for everybody.
Above all, Guy and his team are looking forward to welcoming audiences back to Waterperry this summer, and are ambitious and optimistic for the future.
“Waterperry is a growing festival – every year we try to see what we can do to make it bigger and better, invite more people, to reach for the sky and see what is possible.
“This year’s festival is our biggest and most ambitious yet, and we hope audiences will really respond to that by coming to see these events and spend the day at Waterperry.”
Waterperry Opera Festival runs from August 12th-21st. The box office opened this week. For details, visit www.waterperryoperafestival.co.uk