Singers rehearse for opera festival

Carmen at Winslow Hall. From the left, Robert Secret, Henry Manning, Morales and Dancairo and Natasha Day, Micaela.'130716M-C867
Carmen at Winslow Hall. From the left, Robert Secret, Henry Manning, Morales and Dancairo and Natasha Day, Micaela.'130716M-C867

General Franco’s Spain in the late 1940s and early 1950s is the setting for the Winslow Hall Opera production of Bizet’s Carmen, which opens next Thursday.

Anyone who saw the inaugural production of The Marriage Of Figaro at Winslow Hall last summer will know what a superbly high standard was achieved by the company, under director Yvonne Fontane and musical director Robert Secret.

Opera lovers can expect another treat this year, as once again the marquee is erected in the grounds of Winslow landmark, Winslow Hall.

Again, a cast of top-quality singers have been recruited to be accompanied by the Orchestra Of Stowe Opera, under the baton of Buckingham musician Robert Secret.

Winslow Hall Opera is the brainchild of the hall’s owner, Christopher Gilmour.

Performances take place in a fully covered marquee with raked seating, positioned to the rear of the hall, and audiences can enjoy picnics in the spacious garden during the 90-minute interval. Parking is in the field opposite the hall.

Carmen is, of course, a very different proposition from last year’s Mozart offering.

Director Yvonne Fontane, who played the Contessa in last year’s Figaro, is this year taking the leading role.

Italian tenor Gianluca Paganelli will be revisiting the role of Don José, while the winner of the 2010 Kathleen Ferrier Award, Njabulo Madlala, is taking on the role of Escamillo for the first time.

Natasha Day, playing Micaela, won first prize at the 2012 Złote Głosy Competition in Warsaw and the Most Promising Singer Award at the Emmy Destinn Competition in Prague.

Helen Massey, who had tremendous success as Susanna in last year’s Figaro, plays Frasquita, and Hannah Mason plays Mercédès.

Also on the team this year are set designer Francisco Rodriguez Weil, English National Opera managing lighting designer Tony Simpson, Beth Madden, who has been costume manager at the Royal Opera House and the English National Opera and Jaki Airy, regular make-up artist at Glyndebourne and Opera Holland Park.

Ms Fontane says: “Carmen is one of the most complex personalities in the operatic repertoire. The story is intimate, personal and eternally relevant to human nature and the relationships between all the characters will remain the focus of my production.

“The story of Don José and Carmen is fuelled further by the tension in which everyone around them has to live due to the punitive (Franco) regime.

“People live in conflict with themselves and the world as most have to lead a duplicitous and secretive existence.”

Performances are on July 25, 27, 28 and 30 and August 1 and 3. Tickets £75 from 07504 298575 or

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