Curtain Up At Garsington Opera’s World Premiere By Fiona Sanderson

Garsington Opera at Wormsley (Image © Clive Barda / ArenaPAL)

Garsington Opera’s box office is now open for what is anticipated to be a very exciting season of four new productions (Die Zauberflote – Mozart’s last opera, Capriccio by Strauss and Falstaff by Verdi) and its first ever Festival World Premiere, The Skating Rink by leading British composer David Sawer and award-winning librettist Rory Mullarkey. The opera is based on the novel by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño.

In a filmed interview (click here to watch in full), The Luxury Channel meets award-winning playwright Rory Mullarkey, to hear how he travelled to the original campsite in Castelledefels in Spain where Bolaño first set his story, so that he could immerse himself in a new structure and narrative that would work for the opera.

Stockport native Rory Mullarkey graduated from Cambridge in 2009, after which he studied at the State Theatrical Arts Academy of St. Petersburg. In 2014, he won the Harold Pinter Playwriting Prize, the George Devine Award (jointly with Alice Birch) and the James Tait Black Prize for Drama for his play Cannibals, published by Methuen Drama.

Hansel und Gretel at Garsington Opera (Image courtesy of Mike Hoban)

“I’m bad at being told what to do,” says Mullarkey with a grin. The playwright, raised in a military family, quickly found that taking orders wasn’t for him when he tried to join the army as a teenager. A few years later, fresh from studying Russian at Cambridge University, his stint at drama school in St Petersburg was similarly short-lived. “My temperament just was not suited to being told what to do for a year.”

The same unruly streak runs through Mullarkey’s plays. Cannibals, the play that made him the youngest writer ever staged in the Royal Exchange Theatre’s main house at 25, contained a whole section written daringly in Russian. His Royal Court debut, The Wolf From The Door, playfully set violent insurrection in the green and pleasant land of rural England, while Pentabus commission Each Slow Dusk deliberately eschewed accepted First World War narratives.

Avoiding or subverting convention, Mullarkey says, has paid off. “I wrote stuff for a while and sent it off to places, but when people really started to take notice of it and put it on was when I’d abandoned all desire to do anything that was what I thought I was supposed to do.”

Intermezzo at Garsington Opera

The acting might not have stuck, but Mullarkey’s fascination with Russia did. He reels off a long list of Russian authors – Dostoyevsky, Lermontov, Goncharov, Chekhov, Pushkin, Gogol – whose influence has seeped into his writing. “I read and re-read those guys until they were in my metabolism, because I loved what they said so much; not only their stories, but also the philosophical weight of the feelings they express.” Learning Russian as a teenager at Manchester Grammar School, he fell in love “with the sounds of it, with the way the words move.”

It was Mullarkey’s Russian that got him his first gig out of university. While performing in his own play on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007, word of the show spread to director Lyndsey Turner – Mullarkey’s “number one living inspiration” – who asked to read the script. Discovering that Mullarkey could speak Russian, she quickly set him to work on a series of translations for the Royal Court, offering a crucial foot in the door. It was also a steep learning curve. “Going through 20 plays and every single line, seeing it in one language and making it work as an active line in English – it’s probably the best education I could have asked for in making sure the dialogue I was trying to write was going to be active,” he says. “I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t done that.”

The Cunning Little Vixen by Janacek at Garsington Opera (Image © Clive Barda / ArenaPAL)

The Skating Rink

A beautiful young skating champion, Nuria (Lauren Zolezzi), has a powerful admirer, Enric (Neal Davies), whose obsession drives him to pilfer funds to build her an ice rink in a deserted Spanish mansion. A murder on the ice becomes the centre of this tale of jealousy, political corruption, and passion. Young American baritone Ben Edquist will make his British debut singing the role of Remo and the young British tenor Sam Furness sings Gaspar. Susan Bickley (Carmen), Claire Wild (Caridad), Alan Oke (Rookie), and Louise Winter (Pilar) complete the cast. Garry Walker (The Cunning Little Vixen, 2014) returns to conduct, with director and designer Stewart Laing making his Garsington debut.

Die Zauberflote

Mozart’s final opera celebrates the triumph of love and reason over chaos and evil. Benjamin Hulett sings Tamino and Jonathan McGovern, who sang Pelleas last season, is the bird catcher Papageno. Louise Alder, last seen as Ilia in ldomeneo, makes her role debut as Pamina and James Creswell is Sarastro. The Costa Rican soprano lride Martinez sings Queen of The Night and The Three Ladies will be sung by Katherine Crompton, Marta Fontanals-Simmons and Katie Stevenson, all of whom are alumnae of the Garsington Opera Alvarez Young Artists’ Programme. Conductor Christian Curnyn, who conducted The Return of Ulysses for Royal Opera House and The Roundhouse, and director/designer Netia Jones make their Garsington Opera debuts.

Intermezzo at Garsington Opera


Internationally renowned Swedish soprano Miah Persson makes her debut in the role of the Countess with Gavan Ring as the poet Olivier, and Sam Furness, who performed Baron Lummer in Intermezzo, as the composer Flamand, both of whom vie for her love and the primacy of their art. William Dazeley returns as the Count and baritone Andrew Shore as theatre director La Roche. They are also joined by Hanna Hipp (Clairon) and Graham Clark (Taupe). Artistic Director of Garsington Opera Douglas Boyd will conduct, and international director Tim Albery returns after his 2016 success with ldomeneo. This production is in collaboration with Santa Fe Opera.


Falstaff will feature several role debuts including British baritone Henry Waddington in the title role, American soprano Mary Dunleavy as Alice Ford (last seen as Christine in Intermezzo, 2015), Richard Burkhard as Ford and the young soprano Soraya Mafi, who recently performed Cleopatra in English Touring Opera’s production of Giulio Cesare, as Nannetta. Victoria Simmonds (Meg Page), Yvonne Howard (Mistress Quickly), Oliver Johnston (Fenton), Colin Judson (Dr. Caius), Adrian Thompson (Bardolfo) and Nicholas Crawley (Pistola) complete the ensemble cast. Bruno Ravella, who directed Intermezzo, returns to direct and Richard Farnes, former Music Director of Opera North and winner of The Royal Philharmonic Society 2017 Conductor of The Year Award, will conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra in their second year of partnership with Garsington Opera.

Garsington Opera (Image courtesy of Colin Willoughby)


Die Zauberflote – 31st May, 2nd, 8th, 14th, 17th, 22nd, 24th, 30th June, 11th, 17th, 19th, 21st July 2018

Capriccio – 1st, 3rd, 7th, 9th, 15th, 20th, 23rd, 28th June 2018

Falstaff – 16th, 18th, 21st, 29th June, 4th, 7th, 13th, 15th, 20th, 22nd July 2018

The Skating Rink – 5th, 8th, 10th, 14th, 16th July 2018


Tickets range from £110 – £215, including a suggested but non-obligatory donation of £70.
Book online at or telephone +44 (0)1865 361636.