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Opera Holland Park - Test Night for the new Theatre

Opera Holland Park, London 30 May 2007

Hard upon the testing of the new acoustics at Royal Festival Hall prior to its imminent re-opening, May finished with a chance for Friends to see Opera Holland Park's new theatre and participate in testing its facilities.   Fortunately the rain held off, but the weather was chilly in the way it traditionally is for outdoor events in this country.   Sitting there in my Harris tweed jacket, overcoat, gloves and scarf I could almost imagine what it would feel like in the summer!  

The area around the theatre still resembles a building site; about a third of the work still needs to be done but the management are confident it will be finished in time for the opening night next week!

The most striking feature is the new canopy which is much larger than the old one and reaches a greater height.   In nautical terms it now resembles a fully-rigged ship rather than a small yacht – an impression enhanced by the side panel of fabric added to stop rain blowing in.   The edges are serrated, as dictated by the laws of physics, but the overall effect is graceful and attractive, its appearance not unlike that of the temporary pavilion next to the ill-fated Cutty Sark.   After the present assessment of the effect of wind and rain, all vulnerable areas will have been protected before the first night.

The second major innovation, possibly the most important, is the upgraded seating arrangements – a great improvement, with comfortable upholstery, armrests and high backs.   Leg room is increased by 6 inches, all this as a result of expanding the area under the canopy from 1200 to 1600 square metres.  The audience is filtered in through a number of entrances – a system which should cut the delays in getting everyone settled in their places - although the OHP audience is notorious for ignoring the tannoy requests to take their seats! 

A mezzanine floor has been added to take advantage of the increased height of the building; and a third bar can be set up there. Extra space has been provided at the side of the theatre so that the immediate bar areas can be used solely for selling drinks – the same refreshments will be available at both bars.   A trial queuing system was in operation and appeared to be working smoothly.   Picnic areas are still to be decked, but an expanse of shingle laid down does prevent the accumulation of rainwater.

The evening presented the company with the opportunity to rehearse in front of an audience and also to carry out acoustical and lighting tests in realistic conditions.   Excerpts from two of the six operas in the season were played with soloists, chorus and orchestra – some props and costumes also featured.   It was rather like venturing backstage:   the conductor conferred with the stage manager, the soprano pouted, the baritone struck attitudes and one violinist flirted with the cellist.   Very like the first part of Richard Strauss's Ariadne – only the composer was missing!

On a cool evening, when turtle neck sweaters were much in evidence in the orchestra, everything combined to make this a relaxed and enjoyable experience.   There is still a lot to be done but all the indications are that “it will be all right on the night”.   Anyone who has already booked can be confident that this season will be even more successful than previous ones and a visit to OHP will be a special occasion not to be forgotten.     The new improved theatre will doubtless become one of the most important operatic venues in the capital - deservedly so!

Stuart Jenkins