Michael Volpe Talks About Korn/Ferry Opera Holland ParkDate: 19 April 2009
Richard Bonynge is gracing the company as conductor of Donizetti’s relatively rarely-performed Roberto Devereux, directed by the West End theatre director Lindsay Posner and boasting a typically starry cast of Majella Cullagh, Yvonne Howard and Mark Stone. OHP has come a long way in the 20 years since Michael Volpe became General Manager.
Along with his business partner, the venue’s producer James Clutton, Volpe has overseen a growth that now means the company is a must-see Summer fixture for many Londoners. It’s also one that dares to venture into territory untrodden by the major London opera houses. Two years ago, Volpe fulfilled a long-term ambition of mounting Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re, producing one of the most exciting operatic events of the year.
I spoke to Volpe, as things were hotting up for the new season. He describes the line-up of six operas this year as “moderately conservative.” There’s no Montemezzi or Zandonai (in 2010 they will mount the rarity Francesca da Rimini). In fact, two of the works have received a lot of recent exposure – both Hänsel und Gretel and Kát’a Kabanová, while not being the most performed operas in the repertoire, have enjoyed a spate of outings in London in the last year or so. “I think we can stand with the best of them,” says Volpe with characteristic confidence.
I ask him what he sees as the particular challenges of this season. He acknowledges that the Donizetti has its fair share of dangers and there’s the potential for wobbles in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera (next year, they take on the even scarier La forza del destino, notorious for attracting ill-luck).
“Mind you,” says Volpe,”we have Amanda Echalaz as Amelia in Ballo, so it can’t go far wrong.” The South African soprano, now emerging as a major star (her forthcoming ENO debut season includes Tosca, no less), has been given some great opportunities in the park in recent years. “Her success is well deserved,” he says with some pride, “everyone loves working with her and she’s a really exciting artist.”
OHP does seem to have a knack of spotting young talent, nurturing it and inspiring loyalty. Echalaz, who also played Tosca for OHP last season (and on its brief local tour in February), is one of a number of rising stars who continue to return after their careers have taken off.
Volpe talks about the Janacek as another challenge and one that will help develop the company. It comes after an extremely successful production of Jenufa two years ago. The omens are good for Kát’a Kabanová, with the same team returning: Olivia Fuchs to direct and Anne Sophie Duprels following up her triumph as Jenufa with Janacek’s later heroine. Tom Randle and Anne Mason also return, and are joined by the excellent Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts. Stuart Stratford will once again conduct.
Bookings have been strong since they opened a few weeks ago and Volpe tells me that the sponsorship situation is also steady despite the financial climate. “We offer 5,000 seats at just £10. They’ve all gone now but it’s possible we’ll open up more at that price. Not for the more popular operas - Roberto Devereux, La bohème and Ballo - but for the Janacek and Humperdinck perhaps.”
Off the beaten track
I ask Volpe (I must ask him if that’s his real name some time or if he’s modelling his management style on someone else) if they’ve ever considered contemporary works. “It’s not something we’ve done,” he says, “we wouldn’t want to compete with all the other companies doing that sort of thing. Maybe one day we’ll do something like Flight (Jonathan Dove’s 1998 Glyndebourne commission). I don’t rule it out.”
Whether they do take that plunge or not, what marks OHP out is its ability to produce lesser-known works that are otherwise ignored. There may not be anything like that this year but the Zandonai next season will be a must-see for anyone looking beyond the regular repertoire. It’s the sort of thing this company does particularly well.
20 years, still standing
I wonder how Volpe is standing up to two decades of producing opera on a shoestring in an increasingly difficult financial environment. “Some days you wonder why you do it,” he says, “Both James and I could be off doing other things. Then you get a night like Amanda in Tosca or Orla Boylan in Iolanta (Tchaikovsky’s opera from last season) and the audience goes wild. Then it all seems worthwhile. You get a real high from it.”
General Manager of Opera Holland Park for two decades now, Michael Volpe shows no signs of letting up and could well be around for as long again, bringing quality opera at affordable prices to London audiences and ensuring they can continue to indulge their passion over the arid Summer months.
The 10 week season runs from 2 June to 15 August. The operas are Roberto Devereux (opening 2 June), Hänsel und Gretel (from 5 June), La bohème (from 27 June), Orpheus in the Underworld (30 June), Un ballo in maschera (21 July) and Kát’a Kabanová (24 July).
All performances take place under a weatherproof canopy at Holland Park Theatre in the centre of the West London park. Tickets range from £10 to £54 and are available on 0845 230 9769 or online at www.ohp.rbkc.gov.uk. There is a Young Persons Free Ticket Scheme, giving 1200 free tickets to young people aged 9-18.
Photograph: Amanda Echalaz who plays Amelia in Un ballo in maschera
- Simon Thomas