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Michael White’s classical news: Opera Holland Park; Proms at St Jude’s; Cardiff Singer; Leeds Lieder

17 June, 2021 — By Michael White

Nardus Williams as the Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro. Photo: Ali Wright

DESPITE the Johnson government’s ill-founded and unreasonable rule that still prevents us all from singing in a choir (time they backed down on that one), Britain’s summer opera festivals are managing to run – albeit in a tense and not so festive way with half their auditoria roped off. Which means it isn’t easy to get tickets.

But if Glyndebourne, Garsington & co feel off the radar, there’s still Opera Holland Park, their London counterpart. It’s not quite at the same exalted level as the others, but its shows are still impressive; there’s no dress code (a relief); and there’s no problem about getting home because the tube (Kensington High Street) and the Overground (Olympia) are in walking distance. All far more convenient than trekking down to Sussex in black-tie.

Right now there’s a well-reviewed Marriage of Figaro and Traviata running to the end of June. Then in July the repertoire gets more adventurous, with Janacek’s magical eco-opera The Cunning Little Vixen (think Fantastic Mr Fox with better music), and a rarely staged collector’s-piece of vocal romcom by Mascagni (composer of Cavalleria Rusticana) called L’Amico Fritz.

Opera Holland Park functions under a tented canopy, open to the sides, so there’s plenty of Covid-busting fresh air. And careful crowd control makes it pretty damn safe – though the consequent reduction of 1,000 seats to 400 does encourage early booking. Details at operahollandpark.com

For similar reasons I’ve been flagging in advance the big (though this year less capacious) Hampstead Garden Suburb festival, Proms at St Jude’s, which runs June 26 to July 3. Jess Gillam, the young saxophonist in the opening concert, has just picked up a gong in the Honour’s list, so she’s in the news. But equally newsworthy are the elite vocal consort Voces 8 who premiere a new work about the wartime sinking of a ship full of evacuees – many of them children, and including the son of the then vicar of St Jude’s. Called The Innocents, it’s composed by Patrick Hawes and gets performed on July 2. Details: promsatstjudes.org.uk

• For stay-at-homes this week, there’s the diversion of Cardiff Singer of the World on TV, with the preliminary rounds now on the BBC i-Player and the final is this Saturday, June 19, 7.30pm on BBCFour. As competitions go, Cardiff Singer doesn’t have the clout it used to, but it’s still a vocal spectacle that throws up sometimes thrilling talent – if you can see beyond the tacky, gushing packaging the Beeb mistakes for glamour in its efforts to attract a decent audience.

Then there’s the wonderful Leeds Lieder festival which makes no such mistake and just delivers pure quality – in four packed days of peerless song recitals from the finest in the business, all accessible as livestreams from Leeds Town Hall where the festival happens, but staying online for a month after. Running June 17-20, it features the likes of Alice Coote, Mark Padmore, Iestyn Davies, Graham Johnson, Roderick Williams…you could ask no more. Details for online access (there’s a fee but it’s a bargain) at leedslieder.org.uk

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