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Actress Joanna Lumley on why Grange Park Opera’s move to West Horsley will be absolutely fabulous

PUBLISHED: 06:29 13 March 2017 | UPDATED: 06:29 13 March 2017

West Horsley Place (Photo: Richard Lewisohn)

West Horsley Place (Photo: Richard Lewisohn)

contact richard@lewisohn.co.uk

This summer, West Horsley will become home to the UK’s first new opera house to be built in decades. Actress and lead appeal patron, Joanna Lumley, shares why she is so passionate about the project.

Theatre in the Woods (Photo: Richard Lewisohn) Theatre in the Woods (Photo: Richard Lewisohn)

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2017

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In less than two decades, Grange Park Opera has established itself as one of Europe’s leading opera festivals. This year it will move from its current home at Grange Park, in Hampshire, to Surrey, where it will take up residence at West Horsley Place.

The high-profile project involves a new 700-seat theatre being built in the woods behind the 15th century mansion, which was inherited by the author and TV personality, Bamber Gascoigne, in 2014, and is being backed by Joanna Lumley and her husband, conductor Stephen Barlow.

Here, Joanna talks to Surrey Life about her love of music, her travels and what she describes as “a once in a lifetime opportunity to create something truly unique in the arts outside London”.

What persuaded you to take on the role of patron for Grange Park Opera’s appeal for the new Theatre in the Woods in West Horsley?

“It was the easiest decision I have ever made. I love what GPO does, and how it behaves: all are welcome and their standards are sky-high. The Theatre in the Woods is stunningly attractive and will be a new wonder of the glorious Surrey countryside.”

What are your ambitions for this extraordinary new opera house?

“It will be utterly magical: the combination of the majesty of that ancient house and its grand spreading gardens, and the music and dance that will take place in the Theatre in the Woods will be unbeatable.”

GPO initiatives such as £35 tickets for the under-35s seek to encourage the young to sample opera – do you recall your first performance?

“Grace Bumbry singing Aida in about 1964… awesome.”

When the curtain rises in West Horsley on Thursday June 8, sum up in three words what you will be feeling...

“Thrilled, proud and happy.”

Music plays a big part in your life, why is it so important to you?

“I was born listening to the greats… Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak, Chopin... on a wind-up gramophone in the Far East. I would suffocate with no music in my life.”

If you could cast your perfect opera, who would perform and what would it be?

“Maria Callas and Jussi Bjorling in Tosca. Hearing Callas singing Vissi d’arte is a masterclass in both singing and acting; she was truly as good as it gets. She knew exactly how to portray passion, despair, love and hatred, and Puccini’s music is sublime. Jussi Bjorling had a voice I would swim oceans to hear. A giant.”

And if you had to describe yourself as a character in an opera, who would it be and why?

“I would rather like to be the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro: although she has a rather wretched time with a scoundrel of a husband, she has an aria so lovely that whenever I hear the music beginning I start to sob hopelessly.”

As an author, actress, TV presenter and former model, has overseas travel always played an important part in your life?

“Yes, because I was born in a suitcase leaving India at the age of one and living in Hong Kong and Malaysia until I was eight. Long sea voyages punctuated my childhood and left me with a longing to keep moving.”

What do you never forget to pack on your travels?

“Black trousers, a torch and books.”

Which passport stamp are you most proud of?

“Pretty keen on my Mongolian one.”

Do you have a favourite destination you return to as often as possible?

“I loved Ethiopia, where I made part of a documentary, with a passion, and plan to return as soon as I can.”

Where would you like to go next…?

“India again: filming but also savouring the fabulous variety of that stupendous country.”

Who is your dream travel companion?

“My husband; but I mostly travel now with a tiny film crew. We have become best friends and I love working with them.”

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Need to know

Grange Park Opera will open in its new home on Thursday June 8 with Tosca, featuring tenor superstar Joseph Calleja. Guests may arrive two hours before the opera begins to enjoy their picnic in the beautiful grounds of West Horsley Place, have a Fortnum & Mason tea or taste the delights of the restaurant in the historic, 16th Century mansion. Public booking opens on February 8. For more details and to book tickets, call 01962 737373 or email: info@grangeparkopera.co.uk.

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With thanks to Haslemere Travel

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