Tuesday, 13 November 2018

‘Mr Garsington’ shares his 2020 vision

Tickets for this year’s Garsington Opera season at Wormsley went on public sale earlier this week.

Tickets for this year’s Garsington Opera season at Wormsley went on public sale earlier this week. MATTHEW WILSON spoke to artistic director Douglas Boyd about what’s in store this summer

DOUGLAS Boyd is a busy man. You’d expect that, of course, of someone who is the creative driver of an organisation that turns over millions of pounds each year (£4.53 million in 2014).

Not that you would realise from his phone manner, which is measured and thoughtful — his answers expansive and detailed during the 30 or so minutes we spend chatting.

The giveaway, if you will, comes about 10 minutes in, when I ask when it was he started planning the forthcoming season of four productions. This time last year, perhaps?

“Oh, no, even longer,” he says. “I mean, we were having a planning meeting for 2019 and 2020 this morning, so that’s the kind of lead time. It’s extraordinary.”

That seems as good a word as any for the four productions Garsington Opera is staging this summer at the Wormsley estate near Watlington.

Tchaikovsky’s most famous and exquisite opera, Eugene Onegin, will be brought to life for the first time at Garsington by theatre director Michael Boyd (no relation) with Douglas conducting.

The first performance, which opens this year’s festival, is on Friday, June 3.

The following evening, the work of Rossini makes a welcome return to Garsington with his sparkling L’italiana in Algeri, conducted by David Parry and directed by Will Tuckett.

Then on Sunday, June 19, it is the turn of Mozart, whose sublime early masterpiece Idomeneo is directed by Tim Albery and conducted by Tobias Ringborg.

Last but by no means least, on Thursday, July 14, Garsington embarks on a four-date collaboration with Rambert, providing a rare opportunity to see Haydn’s masterpiece The Creation illuminated through dance.

It turns out that while some performers can be booked at relatively short notice, the competition for talent with other opera companies means the principal singers’ services have to be secured as far in advance as possible.

“We tend to book actors at the last possible moment because film and TV work comes in and they won’t commit to stage stuff,” explains Douglas.

“But in the music world we actually have upped our game and we are as far ahead as we possibly can be — because if you want to get the best cast and you want to shoot for excellence you’ve got to plan very, very, very far ahead.

“So we are casting for 2018 at the moment and we’re planning for 2019 and 2020.”

You really are battling it out with other opera companies, aren’t you?

“I’m afraid we are, because what you don’t want is a phone call to someone’s manager to ask ‘Is X available?’ and they say ‘I’m terribly sorry but they’re at the Royal Opera House’ or they’re at Glyndebourne.

“You want the answer ‘Yes, they’re available’ and then you can talk artistically about whether it’s the right role. I’m afraid it is a competition, it really is, to get the best people.”

Nor is it only the on-stage talent that impresses. Eugene Onegin director Michael Boyd is a former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He will joined on the production by theatre designer Tom Piper, whose 2014 collaboration with ceramic artist Paul Cummins, the commemorative art installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London, was widely acclaimed.

Given the artistic visionaries on board, does it make sense to wonder if the 2016 has an overarching theme of some sort?

“It’s a really good question, but I think the trouble with one theme is that you can end up with not enough variety, and what’s terribly important is that we have a balance in our programme.

“I mean, I think there is one theme, within the three operas — the stories are all about decisions taken by human beings that have life-changing consequences. And that’s told either through tragedy or through comedy.

“In the case of Eugene Onegin, it’s about Onegin rejecting Tatyana, who expresses her love for him, and then he comes back later, many years later, when he sees her married to somebody in the high society, Prince Gremin, he’s just horrified by his own misjudgement because he’s now fallen totally in love with her, but too late.

“It’s a very human story and it has relevance to millions of people. And so all the stories have that kind of theme connected to them — decisions that have life-changing consequences.

“Going back to what I was saying about programmes, what’s incredibly important is to have balance. Balance is different centuries, different genres, different languages, comedy, tragedy...

“At the beginning of doing this job I thought ‘Oh, I’ll just choose three really nice operas that I like’ but actually there’s an awful lot that goes into choosing an opera season and a lot of navel-gazing before we come out the other end and say ‘Hey, I think we’ve got three fantastic operas here to perform.’

“I’m hoping we get to the end of July and we sit down over a very nice glass of wine and we say what a wonderful festival, with four extraordinary productions. That’s my dream for this season.”

* Ticket for Garsington Opera’s 2016 season are now on public sale. To enquire about prices and availability, call 01865 361636 or visit www.garsingtonopera.org

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