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Bridges, Garden Opera's moving spirit, has mentioned the enthusiasm of his partner and fellow-pianist, Elena Riu, for Gabriel Garcia Lorca's touring company. 'They adapted and performed great Spanish plays in bullrings, squares, where there was no theatre.' As Lorca saw it, 'An artist must laugh and cry with his people'. This idea permeates Bridges' operatic philosophy. 'Like them, we're not dealing with the arts world ... we're by-passing the system. A crew of four, two vans, a three-hour get in; we carry the set with us -- the whole stage, scenery, props, lights. We get a chance to look at the audience as they look at us setting up -- lots come to picnic beforehand.'

With its versatile choice of venues, Garden Opera covers just about all of England: 'We go back to gardens we've visited for years,' says Lucy de Castro -- 'several in Devon, for instance -- but every summer spread tentacles wider: we played in Derbyshire this year -- at Tissington Hall, a beautiful seventeenth century house near Ashbourne; and then on an old reclaimed colliery slag-heap at Ashby, Leicestershire, where there's an architect-designed amphitheatre with a canopy. It's called Conkers.'

No surprise there -- with the cheerfully common Jervis in full flow in an opera like Rossini's The Barber of Seville, you fall off your branch with belly-laughs.

The new venue's website is and, says Lucy de Castro, 'They have done very well to regenerate a huge area that had become rather sadly neglected.' Garden Opera appeared as part of a small festival, which featured a tribute band and other suitably cheerful entertainments.

Ian Jervis, Garden Opera's lascivious Don Giovanni.
Ian Jervis, Garden Opera's lascivious Don Giovanni.

No problems with understanding Mozart in Italian: Garden Opera's Don Giovanni is sung in a compacter version in Amanda Holden's sharp, sly translation. The interval is usually sufficient for people to bring a picnic and -- weather permitting -- enjoy a pleasant glass or three. Even with a funny run of unpredictable weather this summer, says Lucy de Castro, 'Garden Opera didn't have to cancel any of its shows': no mean achievement.

Meanwhile, Garden Opera's winter season will take in Blackheath Concert Halls (4 February 2005), Broxbourne Civic Hall, Hertfordshire (10 February), Berkhamstead Collegiate School (12 February) and Theatre Royal Margate (13 February) with Don Giovanni, which is designed by Pip Nash with costumes by Dulcie Best.

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Copyright © 26 September 2004 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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