After lockdown, Bryn Terfel's first UK opera appearance will be as Falstaff at Grange Park Opera in June.
Grange Park Opera was founded in 1998 by Wasfi Kani and has since staged more than 75 operas, including a Fiddler on the Roof with Terfel at the BBC Proms in 2015. Based originally at The Grange country house in Hampshire, Kani decided to move the operation to West Horsley Place, Surrey in 2016.
West Horsley Place was inherited in 2015 by author and broadcaster Bamber Gascoigne from his aunt Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe. It's a 350-acre estate with a sprawling 14th-century house, and he didn't quite know what to do with it. In its grounds, in just eleven months, Kani built a five-storey opera house, modelled on La Scala in Milan, that seats 700.
Bamber Gascoigne is someone I watched on the television with my grandmother for years, so to actually meet him – Terfel said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph – What he inherited and what's been built in the corner of his country estate… the story should be a Hollywood blockbuster really.
2019 even saw the inauguration of a Piccolo theatre too – Milan's Piccolo Scala became a storage space in 1983, though Milan's Piccolo Teatro (which has nothing to do with La Scala) is the name of the great director Giorgio Strehler's theatre.
It's an absolute joy to perform here and to hear the best operas in the world in such an intimate environment in the middle of the woods is just amazing. I love the camaraderie, to see people in the breaks having their dinner… and it's so close to London.
Terfel has been singing Falstaff (also at Milan's La Scala) for over twenty years.
[It's] undoubtedly my favourite opera to perform. It's a role where you always want to find something new. The opera puts a smile on my face and vocally I think I am singing it really well. You're in the make-up chair for an hour, giggling at yourself being disguised.
Grange Park Opera's sister charity Pimlico Opera, founded in 1987, has presented co-productions with prisons for 26 years and has taken more than 50,000 members of the public into prison. At Wandsworth Prison ten years ago, Terfel first met Wasfi Kani, a violinist before becoming an impresario.
I thought, this woman is just astounding.
Terfel sang at the opening concert of her new opera house in the grounds of the Grade I listed building.
I don't think of opera as being something so elitist: if you do your homework, you can get a ticket in the amphitheatre of the Royal Opera House for less than 20 quid. After a pandemic people will want to thrive and be in a theatre.
Terfel, like many musicians and other artists, is nervous about the consequences of Brexit on his European travelling.
Seventy per cent of my work is European, and my dad got grants from the European Union. [The politicians] need to step up to the plate, sort it out and give us the correct information.
Top photo: Bryn Terfel in Grange Park Opera's Fiddler on the Roof
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.