Opera in the garden

Winter gardens 6. Winter Gardens
Winter gardens 6. Winter Gardens

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine . . .

Oberon’s words in A Midsummer Night’s Dream take on something nearing reality next week when the glass canopy covering banks of plants and shrubbery in the Winter Garden become the backdrop for Britten’s magical opera after Shakespeare’s play.

“The idea came from Gareth Lloyd when he performed a flashmob in the Winter Garden last summer,” reveals Kathryn Gasic, joint producer with him of the performance. Both are Sheffield University music graduates.

“Being an opera enthusiast and performer, he was keen to put on this opera to celebrate Benjamin Britten’s centennial this year,” she adds.

Between them they have assembled an impressive cast of young Sheffield-based singers, many also university graduates, “plus one or two familiar faces, and one or two to watch out for,” hints Kathryn.

Among better-known names are Chloe Saywell (Tytania), Andrea Tweedale (Helena), Matthew Palmer (Demetrius) and in much smaller roles as fairies, Rosie Williamson and Gina Walters.

Among friends and colleagues are Tom Morrs (Lysander), Katie Hainbach (Hermia), Richard Pascoe (Theseus), Sarah Ogden (Hippolyta) and as Oberon, a countertenor role written for Alfred Deller, Rosie Middleton – a mezzo-soprano.

“Louise (Pymer, who is directing) sees Oberon and Tytania as two sides of Mother Earth, so it made sense that they were both female singers reflecting the negative and positive sides of nature battling out,” explains Kathryn.

Gareth Lloyd himself plays Flute, the Peter Pears part at the work’s 1960 premiere of the only opera Britten penned in which he didn’t write a leading role for his lifelong partner.

“Acoustically, singing in the Winter Garden is ideal for this opera, thanks to its high ceilings and mostly glass roof,” says Gareth’s co-producer.

“The majority of the action is set within enchanted woodland and this is where the garden will come into its own, being home to more than 2,000 exotic plants from around the world.

“Most of the performance (with piano) will take place in the central space of the Winter Garden which has six clear pathways from it that will become stage entrances and exits making them ideal for the often bewildering action.”

As she also points out, the large glass roof is a natural sky backdrop and, given a summer sunset, performances (which begin at 7pm) will end “with the beginning of a midsummer’s night”.