Country-house opera wonders where it will get its next million

June 21, 2010


There’s more to the English summer social calendar than sport – but it is in danger of being drowned out by the cries of disappointed football fans and sapped by lack of cash.

During the June and July evenings when much of Britain grinds to a halt to watch World Cup matches on giant screens in pubs and smaller screens at home, a different style of audience escapes to the countryside, wearing evening dress and carrying picnic hampers, for the 2010 season of country-house operas.

While the most famous are at Glyndebourne, a younger rival Grange Park Opera in Hampshire has also earned critical acclaim.

It is undeniably elite, but that does not mean it does not have money issues.

Whereas football is guaranteed enormous audiences and sponsorship deals, often in defiance of the quality of play, Grange Park ticket sales fell last year against the backdrop of global recession and funding cuts to the arts.

It was the first time they had not shown annual growth since the founding of the festival in 1997.

This year, they are back above 2008 levels, to the relief of founder and chief executive Wasfi Kani, whose services to music have earned her an OBE (Order of the British Empire), but she still says the struggle for funding is “a bit like painting the Fourth Bridge”.

Before productions, Kani appears on stage with Grange Park patron Lord Ashburton and his very appealing black labrador Ellie, to remind the audience that as soon as she has raised the 1 million pounds needed for this season, she has to begin work raising the next million for 2011.

Gazprom Marketing & Trading, part of the Russian gas giant, sponsored the Russian opera “The Love for Three Oranges”.

Individual benefactors have contributed sums representing anything from a few bars of festival music to body parts of opera singers.

Looking to the 2011 production of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”, Kani has found the money for most of Isolde, but said at the weekend she was still looking for the price of her head.

The footballing equivalent might be the England manager adressing the crowd at the start of a game and asking someone to pay for striker Wayne Rooney’s foot.

Picture Credit: England’s Wayne Rooney reacts during the 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match against Algeria at Green Point stadium in Cape Town June 18, 2010. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

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