Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor
In 2014, director David Penn’s evocative setting of the Lammermuir hills in the borders of Scotland provided the backdrop for Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor with Elena Xanthoudakis in the title role, and the first of her 3 appearances for Winslow Hall Opera, Pablo Bemsch and Vasile Chisiu.
Despite being a difficult opera to pull off, Winslow Hall's production has genuine merit
Last to enter this year’s country-house-opera field is Winslow Hall, where a brief season runs until the weekend. It’s held in a marquee in the back garden of a magnificently elegant town house, attributed to Wren, some ten miles north of Aylesbury, recently bought and restored by the restaurateur Christopher Gilmour… I was surprised and delighted by the quality of the performance of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor-not an easy opera to pull off by any means…….The visitor experience is endearingly friendly, and the PVC marquee provided an unexpectedly good acoustic environment…The lyric Australian soprano Elena Xanthoudakis made an enchantingly fey Lucia… I enjoyed the performance enormously - what a wonderfully rich and involving opera Lucia is.
Rupert Christiansen for The Telegraph, 08 September 14
The Winslow Hall production of Lucia di Lammermoor get full marks
This production is a triumph, almost without qualification. The staging is unobtrusive but perfectly effective, all the dramatic moments in a work full of them emerging with an impact I haven’t experienced before. The three principal singers are outstanding, and indeed in the case of Lucia already well known: Elena Xanthoudakis. But her inamorato is just as remarkable: Pablo Bemsch from Argentina has the right kind of voice for Edgardo. And the Romanian Vasile Chisiu as Enrico makes an unsympathetic role interestingly complex by the warmth of his tone.
Michael Tanner for The Spectator, 13 September 14
Lucia at Winslow Hall had everything one could hope for
A wonderful setting, a terrific orchestra conducted with impeccable sensitivity and great flair by Oliver Gilmour, and a dynamic cast topped by the glorious Elena Xanthoudakis as Lucia. I am already looking forward to next summer.
Robert Fox, theatre producer for , 22 November 16
Winslow Hall shows you don’t need fancy sets to make opera enjoyable. In fact, it may be much better without them.
Winslow Hall is a large and handsome country house in Buckinghamshire, built in 1700 by Sir Christopher Wren, which Tony Blair nearly bought in 2007 when he was looking for an imposing residence appropriate to his station in life as a retired prime minister.
Instead, it was bought four years ago by Christopher Gilmour, one of the five children of The Spectator’s former proprietor and editor Sir Ian Gilmour, the Conservative politician and cabinet minister. I don’t think of him as particularly rich, but perhaps he is richer than I imagine; for he not only bought a house that looks very expensive to maintain, but also decided almost immediately to start an opera festival there. He loves opera, which is fine. But it is hard to think of a quicker way to lose money than to stage opera without an Arts Council grant. I suggested to Christopher Gilmour on the telephone that this might be folie de grandeur. It was folly anyway, he replied. He had lost a lot of his own money on the enterprise. It had been incredibly difficult and exhausting to set up, and yet it had all been worth it. And when I went this month to the last performance of Gaetano Donizetti’s great opera Lucia di Lammermoor, a couple of days before the Scottish referendum, I could see why.
It was performed in a marquee in the garden, with a scratch orchestra and singers, mostly dressed in kilts, that I’d never heard of, with no sets but a backdrop screen of Scottish hills, and it was magnificent. Oliver Gilmour, who conducted with great authority, had hired the singers for poignantly small sums of money — the world seems to be full of excellent underemployed opera singers — and they were terrific, especially the Greek soprano Elena Xanthoudakis, who sang Lucia not only brilliantly but also with huge elegance, charm and dramatic power.
Alexander Chancellor for The Spectator, 27 September 14
There’s an inviting, convivial atmosphere about Winslow Hall, celebrating its third season of opera with Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Picnic tables are spread out around this large country house, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The Hall’s owner strolls the grounds in tartan trousers, welcoming people in a plummy accent around the marquee, where the action takes place. Inside, seats are pushed up against the orchestra pit, making for a lively and intimate space. The set is sparse — but so, I’d imagine, would be the scenes in 17th-century Scotland where the opera is set. As a result the emphasis falls squarely on the singing, which is superb.
The star of the show, however, was Australian soprano Elena Xanthoudakis in the title role of Lucia. Her voice is clear and loud and she sings the opera’s celebrated mad scene with panache, helped by excellent acoustics. This was like travelling back in time to catch the early days of established events like Glyndebourne or Garsington Opera, and experiencing them at their purest.
Stuart Macbeth for The Oxford Times, 22 November 16
No sooner had Cameron and Miliband made their frantic unionist visit to Scotland than the Borders came to Buckinghamshire with Lucia di Lammermoor. Technically, this was not quite country house opera, since Winslow Hall, a superb red-brick edifice designed by Christopher Wren, looms over the southern entrance to the small market town of Winslow; that being said, despite its proximity to both Aylesbury and Milton Keynes, it feels worlds away from the commuter belt. The house was bought in 2010 by the restaurateur Christopher Gilmour. The auditorium, backing directly onto the house, is a sturdy rectangular tent with steeply-banked seating for just under 300 people.
A 90-minute dinner break came after the wedding scene, but this Lucia, directed by David Penn and conducted by Oliver Gilmour (brother of Christopher and formerly principal conductor of the Bulgarian State Opera), sustained powerful momentum.
Yehuda Shapiro for Opera Magazine, 11 September 14