When Grange Park Opera’s black-tie audience arrives for the opening night of the 2013 season, everyone will admire an old staircase. Ripped out long ago from the Grange, once a distressed neo-classical mansion in a rural bit of Hampshire, it has been reinstated with help from the opera festival’s family of supporters.
The Portico of Grange Park lit in anticipation of a sublime evening ahead.
You might think that a grand staircase is hardly crucial to a small opera company in the English countryside, but Wasfi Kani, Grange Park’s founder and chief executive, understands its appeal. “People do come to Grange Park for the opera, but they also come for something else… the experience of having a house party where everyone dresses up – not everyone wears a black tie, we encourage stylish eccentricity – where they can eat a picnic in a glorious landscape and see people they might want to meet,” she says in a carrying voice.
Opera Lovers enjoying the grounds before the evening performance
The formula has clearly worked. This season, Grange Park Opera – now regarded as one of major festivals in Europe – is presenting four new productions in its a 550-seat theatre, which was built in the mansion’s historic conservatory. However, since its first production in 1998, the festival has been self-funding: not a penny has come from the taxpayer, it has all been provided by revenue from the box office and from sponsorship. One of the evening’s spectacles that Wasfi doesn’t mention is her pre-performance speeches in which she shamelessly asks for support in ever-more inventive ways. Last year, knowing that times were tight, and that it was unlikely anyone would be able to fund the whole cost of putting a singer on the stage, she asked the audience if they would fund Eugene Onegin’s leg.
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