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Grange Park Opera lease to end in 2016 after dispute with landlords

Quirijn de Lang and Carl Tanner in The Queen of Spades at Grange Park Opera in 2012. Photo: Tristram Kenton Quirijn de Lang and Carl Tanner in The Queen of Spades at Grange Park Opera in 2012. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Grange Park Opera is to leave its Hampshire home of 17 years after a dispute with its landlords, who have set up a new company in its stead.

The opera company had a lease with the Grange estate until 2017 but will now play its final season at the venue in summer 2016, after which a new arm’s-length company – the Grange Festival – will take on opera programming at the venue.

The Grange has played host to Grange Park Opera for two months every summer since 1998, with the two parties until recently in talks to renew the opera company’s lease.

However, the estate’s owners, John Baring and his son Mark, brought an abrupt end to talks on October 19 after they failed to agree on a new rent deal – and Grange Park Opera was informed the following day that the landlords had decided to found their own company.

Grange Park Opera is now in discussions with the owner of West Horsley Place in Surrey to use the venue as a new home for the company’s productions.

But despite leaving the Grange after the 2016 season, a company spokesperson confirmed it would seek to continue staging productions under the name Grange Park Opera.

Board member Emma Kane told The Stage: “When we first went to the Grange 17 years ago, it was a derelict site, so we’ve had a great time transforming it into the jewel that it is now. And now we shall go and do a similar thing elsewhere.”

She added: “Of course, there’s a lot of work to be done to create our new home, but we’ve done it before and we’ve got a lot of experience under our belt.”

In a statement after talks with Grange Park Opera ended, Baring said: “It has been wonderful to have opera at Grange Park each summer and we are delighted to announce that we will continue to do so.”

“A great deal has been achieved in nearly 20 years, thanks to GPO co-founders Wasfi Kani and Michael Moody and their staff, and the generosity and commitment of many supporters, donors and visitors. We look forward to working with the Grange Festival to continue what has become a much-loved cultural event,” he added.

To kickstart the Grange Festival, Baring and his son have appointed Michael Chance as artistic director.

Like Grange Park Opera, it will stage opera in the summer, but Chance hopes to expand into theatre and dance events at other times of year.

Commenting on his appointment, Chance said he was “particularly excited about the range of possibilities which this extraordinary venue, and jewel of a theatre, offers”.

He told The Stage that opera at the venue “tends to feel a bit closed” to newcomers, and that he “would love to open it up a bit” to a broader audience.

“There is a lot more potential in the space than is being used,” he added.

A board of trustees for the Grange Festival, chaired by Charles Haddon-Cave, is being formed, while Chance revealed he is in the process of assembling a management team.

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