Q & A: Michael Chance on the Grange Festival, the 2022 Season Repertoire & Future of the Festival

By Francisco Salazar
(Credit: Annelies van der Vegt)

On June 9, the Grange Festival in Hampshire will open its fifth annual season.

The festival will present three operatic masterpieces including “Macbeth,” “Tamerlano” and “The Yeoman of the Guard” as well as a Jazz and a Dance program.

The festival, which was founded in 2016 by Michael Chance, Rachel Pearson, and Michael Moody, opened in 2017 and has since been a destination for some of the world’s great singers and world-class productions.

OperaWire had a chance to speak with co-founder Michael Chance about the new season, the future of the festival, and growing its audience.

OperaWire: Tell me about this year’s program and how you came up with the schedule?

Michael Chance: We operate at the same times as quite a few other festivals. We are a summer festival that operates at the same time as Glyndebourne, Garsington, and other smaller festivals. What we choose is governed by what others are doing so we don’t want to choose the same thing. The other thing is that we have a capacity for quite a wide variety of repertoire. We can accommodate an orchestra of 70 in a pit which is big for a small theater. The theater sits 610 and the stage is deep and wide but not excessively so we can accommodate 50 people on the stage with chorus, principals, and dancers. all of these things are suitable for this stage and what we can do and what will draw audiences. It’s a perfect house for anything before Mozart and anything after Mozart. Audiences have good sightlines and can hear very well and see the faces of the performers. It has a level of intimacy that is important. It is different from the huge opera houses and it is a return to the opera houses that you see all over Italy which were built in the 18th century and before.

I tend to do a mix of well-performed earlier operas from Monteverdi to Händel and we are in a Mozart cycle. We have a Händel opera this year and we have Macbeth, which was written for the Teatro della Pergola, a very small theater in Florence. It’s a big ask with a lot of chorus and singers but that is the scale which Verdi first imagined so that is what we are bringing.

Next year there are plans for “Pique Dame” with some Russian singers and “Così Fan Tutte” with a Ukrainian conductor. There will also be a double of early works.

OW: As you noted, “Macbeth” was written for a smaller audience. Tell me about what audiences will experience seeing this work on such an intimate stage as opposed to watching it at a grander theater?

MC: I feel like there is a scale to go to the historical roots which got lost in translation bringing them to the great opera houses. That scale has to be a certain way in terms of volume, projection, and size, especially in the U.S.Ultimately we are talking about relationships, personality, and individuals inhabiting a space. There are also public scenes of those scenes which are much more people. What we can offer is a return to the roots.

OW: When you decide on “Tamerlano” and “Macbeth” in the same season. Was there any thematic relevancy?

MC: Every production we do is a separate independent event. Different sets, costumes, teams. Everything is different. We do not present productions based on themes. We tell the story in the 21st century, in its own terms, accessibility both in its cultural context, so people have a really strong sense of what it is about both historically and for now.

OW: Tell me about the casting process for the festival?

MC: Casting is completely crucial and I am looking to a certain extent for consistency in the casting. I am not particularly interested in having a huge star who commands a big fee. We cannot pay the fees of a Covent Garden or Met. We pay fairly and I always thought that good people like to work with good people in good conditions and be paid fairly for it. We have rarely failed to get the singers of our choice. We want them to be interested in working with really good people who they may have come across before and who they want to work with. We get artists who are really committed to us.

OW: Festivals have a way of making productions musically more cohesive and revelatory than a repertory house. Tell me about your rehearsal process and how much time goes into the preparation?

MC: We do a week of music and four weeks of production all in London. Then we give them three days of stage and piano, 12 hours of stage and orchestra followed by a public dress rehearsal, and followed by the run. That is what we give them. Everything we do is a new production and there is never a revival. Everything is created by us. So it is a good opportunity for singers to learn roles in a very supportive environment. They don’t have the pressure to learn everything really quickly and they can get inside the roles. They can emerge to sing the role anywhere else with great authority. It is a good place to get new roles under their belt. That is quite appealing. Sometimes artists come to us and say they will sing a role in a few years at another house and want to do it first here and that is what we can offer them.

OW: Since all the productions are new productions, what happens to them after they are presented at the festival?

MC:  Once we have built our audience to a critical mass, we will revive them. Storing productions is not cheap and the economics are not good. We are always looking for co-productions For “Macbeth” we had a co-production with Opera Philadelphia and Scottish Opera. It was a three-way bet but both houses dropped out due to the pandemic.  We have some co-productions coming up and that is what we want in opera. It is to share resources and finances, especially in the current world. It’s not always easy to do because your production has to fit logistically and stylistically with the requirements of the houses and the companies.

OW: The festival is an hour and a half out of London. Tell me about the audience and how has it grown and changed over the years?

MC: we’re only five years old. So the tradition of going to this particular location had been established by our predecessors. Our audience to start is our loyal region supporters who are committed to coming to us every year. They are within a radius of where we are about one hour to two hours from where we are driving. Then a lot will come from London. We have a group from Scotland, particularly from Edinburgh. Before the pandemic, we also had a lot from France, Holland, and Germany. That was starting to catch fire but now we have to start again. This year we have a large group coming from Vancouver. So building our international profile was starting to happen and it will start again now.

OW: Where do you see the festival going in the next few years?

MC: Before the pandemic, we were growing ten percent a year. The numbers this year are looking great and the ticket sales will be above what we projected post-pandemic. I want it to be a destination of choice for opera and art lovers on an international level. It is competitive but I want it to be one of the world’s destinations.


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