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But it's the smaller touring companies that assume the lion's share of the work, taking stagings to what might otherwise be opera-starved areas.

Garden Opera in action.
Garden Opera in action.

Garden Opera, one of Britain's raciest touring ensembles, is celebrating ten years on the road hauling soapbox opera from Harrogate to Henley, Tenbury to Tisbury, Rochester to Reigate, Ashby-de-la-Zouche to Weston-under-Lizard. Raunchy jokes are de rigueur: their latest on the-road Don Giovanni stars once again the ebullient, cheerfully common Ian Jervis (their Barber of Seville's buoyant Figaro). After dispensing his devilish amatory tricks the length and breadth of Britain, Jervis appeared last month in Greenwich Park's intimate Observatory Garden (and before that at the former Royal Naval College, now Trinity College of Music) and on Regent's Park's charmingly titled Nannies' Lawn: a small, pretty amphitheatre that seats 450-500 people. The company rounded off in grand style with a less rural gala performance at the Purcell Room -- Garden Opera's first venture to London's South Bank Centre.

Garden Operagoers take to the lawn.
Garden Operagoers take to the lawn.

Making opera accessible to all walks of life, communicating directly with an audience using all possible means and cultivating a team of youngish performers -- such as Declan Kelly, their Almaviva and Don Ottavio -- are all key parts of this charitable company's remit, says Garden Opera's manager, Lucy de Castro.

Just to prove its inclusiveness, this punchy little company, founded and directed by Peter Bridges, took Carmen to Kenya last spring, performing at Fort Jesus, Mombasa and Hell's Gate National Park, Naivasha, plus an educational performance in Nairobi which drew 1,000 orphans, 'all in immaculate school uniform', raising money for AIDS charities. The company heads off there again on 17 February 2005.

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Copyright © 26 September 2004 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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