In just a week you’ll be able to tell your friends “and of course, Harborough has its own opera house you know”.
Remarkable, but true. A new, multi-million pound opera house opens next Thursday, within the Grade II* listed stable block at Nevill Holt Hall, about six miles north-east of Market Harborough.
The 397-seat opera house – created by wealthy, opera-loving Carphone Warehouse co-founder David Ross (52) – will be a jewel in the crown of East Midlands arts.
So what can visitors expect on the exciting opening night, when the opera is Mozart’s popular comic opera Le Nozze Di Figaro (The Marriage Of Figaro)?
Nevill Holt Opera’s general manager Rosenna East said: “I think as soon as they come through the Nevill Holt gates, they will notice the wonderful gardens look better than ever.
“The setting and surroundings of the opera house are getting more and more beautiful. There’s more planting at the front of the main hall and of course all the amazing scultures.
“From the outside, the opera house building looks exactly the same, because it’s a listed building.”
In fact it’s the old hall’s former stable block, a harmony in stone with a central clock turret, that all dates back to the late 17th century
It was built as a quadrangle round a central courtyard. That courtyard has been roofed in to create the new building.
“When you step inside, that’s when the magic starts” said Rosenna.
“Our fine architects – Witherford Watson Mann – have worked to really bring an historic building back to life.
“It’s a very beautiful, intimate theatre with the warm colour of the stone, the douglas fir set into the floor and it all combines to give an acoustic that is rich and warm. It’s very special.”
This permanent opera house replaces a temporary structure that has staged opera here since 2004.
Conductor Nicholas Chalmers is artistic director of Nevill Holt and will conduct Le Nozze Di Figaro.
“From an orchestra pit that could incorporate 38 players, we’re up to 50,” he told The Stage. “That means we can perform fully fledged Mozart, some Britten, some Puccini, Handel – and more generally classical and neo-classical works.
“But our great selling point is intimacy, with our audiences close to the performers. I never want to lose that.”
Nevill Holt is a tiny hamlet in the Harborough district, and not particularly close to any motorway, railway station or major city. But that’s the point.
It will become one of a tiny group of country house opera venues, where the lovely setting is part of the experience.
The opera here starts early – at 5pm – because there’s a long, 90 minute “dining interval” half way through, where guests can feast in the grounds of the hall, either on their own picnic or in a variety of gourmet restaurants.
The opera itself is strong though. “Remarkably good” said The Telegraph; “a very high standard” said The Times; “Uniformly top notch” said Opera Now Magazine.
As for can-do hall owner David Ross, he has kept a low profile throughout his fabulously unlikely creation – an opera house in a Leicestershire hamlet.
He has poured his money into both opera and education, and Nevill Holt Opera combines these two passions.
He has said, simply: “It’s brilliant to support the arts and give the best of young British talent an opportunity.”