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Grange Park Opera plans 700-seat woodland La Scala

Architect's impression of Theatre in the Woods, Grange Park Opera's new Surrey home Architect's impression of Theatre in the Woods, Grange Park Opera's new Surrey home
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Grange Park Opera has unveiled plans to build a new 700-seat theatre based on Italy’s La Scala. The new venue, based in a Surrey wood, will be a new home for its annual summer festival.

The company recently announced it was to leave its current base at the Grange estate in Hampshire following the 2016 festival, after failing to reach an agreement with landlords over a new rent deal. In response, Grange estate owners John Baring and his son Mark established a new company – the Grange Festival – which will continue to stage opera productions at the venue each summer.

However, Grange Park Opera has now confirmed it will move to an estate in Surrey owned by former University Challenge host Bamber Gascoigne, and build a new theatre in the surrounding woodlands. Designs for the new venue – currently named Theatre in the Woods – are based on the architecture of the renowned Teatro alla Scala in Milan. It is hoped the theatre will be ready in time for a summer festival season to start in June 2017.

The opera company will have 99-year lease on the land at West Horsley Place and, in a marked difference to its previous home, will be allowed access to it all year round.

Producers said this would allow the venue to expand its remit to events outside of the traditional summer season, including concerts, dance productions, fashion shows and educational masterclasses in music and performance. They also claim the summer festival alone will create casual employment for 400 young people.

Company co-founder Wasfi Kani described the move as the beginning of a “new act for Grange Park Opera”.

She said: “The opportunities offered by West Horsley Place are exceptional: its beauty and historic glamour, its location 23 miles from London and the generosity of Christina and Bamber Gascoigne and the Mary Roxburghe Trust.

Kani also revealed that Grange Park Opera’s turnover exceeded £3.5 million last year, while the 2014 festival attracted 473 young people – which she said she wanted to increase.

She added: “With the help of our thousands of generous supporters, Grange Park Opera at Horsley will let us introduce more people than ever, young people especially, to the magic of opera and the wider arts. It will also allow us to give the local area something it can support and own, one of the most powerful reasons for holding a festival in the regions.”

The new theatre – which has been backed by Joanna Lumley and Bryn Terfel – will be funded through donations from trusts and foundations, as well as a public fundraising appeal that will be launched in December.

Estate owner Bamber Gascoigne said: “It was obvious from the start that West Horsley Place is perfect for an opera festival.”

He continued: “A short path through the wood will bring operagoers to our orchard, a magical place of amazingly old fruit trees, perfect for a picnic. A wrought iron gate leads visitors into semi-formal gardens, areas of mown grass separated by ancient box hedges, which I can imagine already full of the bright tented pavilions for which the Grange Park Opera festival is famous.”

A public consultation over the new build will start on November 13.

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