RODERIC DUNNETT talks to Tom Hawkes,
the director of Castleward Opera's 'La Rondine'
Sited half an hour south of Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the granite-walled barn and former coach house of a country seat perched picturesquely above Strangford Lough (or Lake), Castleward Opera is one of the United Kingdom's best-kept opera secrets.
Castleward is Northern Ireland's only professional opera company, and its closest equivalent to Garsington, Grange Park and Longborough (or indeed Drottningholm and Savonlinna). With an auditorium seating between two and three hundred, like them it's intimate and personal; a festive atmosphere pervades all three weeks of the festival. Seats cost thirty or forty pounds sterling -- around sixty US dollars or euros. You need to book early -- by April or May it's usually a case of returns only.
In recent years Flotow's Martha, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor and even, highly imaginatively, Chabrier's cheerful comedy L'Etoile (also a hit at Opera North) have proved firm favourites. This year it's a double dose of Puccini, mixing the Italian verismo composer's heavier and lighter sides : on successive nights, Tosca and La Rondine are Castleward's fare for 2003. The latter was seen at Holland Park last summer, soon after a Covent Garden staging with Anghela Gheorgiou and Roberto Alagna.
La Rondine's director, who also staged the attractive-looking Martha (making splendid
use of Castleward's high ranking stage) and Lucia, is Tom Hawkes. Thirty years ago, Andrew Porter, then critic of the Financial Times, said of his staging of Verdi's Luisa Miller, conducted by Leslie Head, that 'The production was one that any German opera-house would be proud to possess'. It's been true of many of Hawkes's stagings since.
Copyright © 29 May 2003
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK