The thirteenth edition of Arcola’s Grimeborn Opera Festival was the most successful of all time, attracting more than 6,500 people and over a thousand first-time visitors. There were £12 tickets for all 16 operas, and a record number of sold-out performances.
Two productions – Arcola Theatre’s Das Rheingold and Arcola Participation Queer Collective’s Don Jo – were nominated for the Off West End Award for Best Opera Production. The former is the second nomination in as many years for Arcola Theatre, director Julia Burbach and music director Peter Selwyn. The latter is the first ever Off West End award nomination for Arcola’s Participation department, which creates over 13,500 creative opportunities every year for the people of Hackney and beyond.
Reviewing this year’s festival, The Observer’s classical music critic Fiona Maddocks noted that: ”Grimeborn may now be an essential fixture, but it remains as bold and cage-rattling as ever, its ambitions capacious. Classics are transfigured, new works premiered, young artists given opportunities, older ones with experience welcomed to the fold. If you’re sensing that this six-week event is a quixotic rattle bag for everyone, you’ve grasped its ethos. The frustration, for me, is in being unable to go to all 16 shows.”
Das Rheingold showed that not even Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle is beyond the reach of Arcola’s summer opera festival. 18 musicians from the Orpheus Sinfonia performed Jonathan Dove‘s acclaimed orchestration for the first time in London since its premiere in the 1990s. In her ★★★★★ review for TheatreCat, Charlotte Valori called it “musically breathtaking, emotionally gripping, dramatically convincing, and a better advert for the genius of Wagner to a new audience than I’ve seen for ages.”
This year’s Grimeborn took further steps towards improving accessibility, with a relaxed performance for Opera Alegría’s Count Ory (“Funny, accessible to newbies and deadly serious in honouring the music of its source” ★★★★ BroadwayWorld) and pioneering use of Signdance in formidAbility’s Hotspur/Pierrot Lunaire (“fluid, comedic, tragic” ★★★★ The Reviews Hub).
There were daring new takes on classic works. Opera Allegra’s Violetta probed the psychological depths of La Traviata (“Fantastic” ★★★★ BroadwayWorld), while Baseless Fabric Theatre dazzled audiences with their contemporary reimagining of Die Fledermaus (“A nimble 50-minute snapshot of modern life” ★★★★ The Guardian). Meanwhile, Ensemble OrQuesta presented a “stylish and vividly theatrical” (★★★★ The Stage) version of Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie and Over The Pond brought Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi (“Singing, passion and great tunes – what’s not to like?”★★★★ BroadwayWorld) movingly to life.
Rare productions of Treemonisha (“Scott Joplin’s opera is over 100 years old now, but it could have been written yesterday – by Lin-Manuel Miranda” ★★★★ BroadwayWorld) and Amy Beach’s Cabildo (“A real discovery” ★★★★ The Guardian) showcased the extraordinary work of black and female American composers in the early twentieth century, and brought them powerfully into the twenty-first.
The tortured internality of two iconic characters in Miss Havisham’s Wedding Night/12 Poems of Emily Dickinson (“This is the way for Grimeborn to go” ★★★★ Daily Telegraph) was put centre stage, while Irrational Theatre brought lightness and laughter to the festival with three short comic operas by Samuel Barber, Peter Reynolds and Jacques Offenbach (“A witty revival” ★★★★ The Stage).
Brand-new, trailblazing works included Matt Geer’s Sane and Sound (“Remarkably brave” The Reviews Hub) and Noah Mosley’s operatic folk tale Aurora (“Oodles of cheeky charm” Planet Hugill). There were original stagings of inventive, international stories including Ruthless Jabiru’s Silk Moth (“Sophisticated, stylish and sincere” The Stage) and Verity Lane’s Origami Soundscapes / The Crane (“Restrained and elegant” Planet Hugill).
For the first time, Studio 2 transformed into a cinema for a one-off film screening of the documentary Leyla Gencer: La Diva Turca, celebrating the legendary Turkish soprano and broadening Grimeborn’s scope beyond the stage.
Plays To See concluded that “Opera lovers in London owe a debt of gratitude to the Arcola and the companies who help it to create the Grimeborn season.” Arcola would like to extend a huge thank you to all the artists, companies and crew who worked tirelessly on each production, to the Mila Charitable Organisation, and to all the other Supporters, donors and audiences who made this year’s Grimeborn the most successful festival yet.