The' Unsung Heroes' Of Summer Opera In Chiswick House Gardens
Local volunteers celebrate ten years of open-air performances
Summer Opera in the Gardens of Chiswick House is now a notable feature in the West London summer calendar and this year celebrates its tenth anniversary. The two nights of open-air performances now accommodate up to 2000 visitors. But the Opera in the Gardens would not be the success story it is, without the quiet dedication of a team of local volunteers.
This year a group of seventeen hardworking committee members gave up a huge amount of their free time to ensuring the event- which runs next week ( July 2 and 3) is well publicised and well organised. Not only do they want to see a great night, but the proceeds go towards Chiswick House Friends, who are currently raising money to restore a 19th-century melon house behind the Camellia House.
Organisational meetings commence in September for the July performances when the group, many of whom live in roads adjacent to Chiswick House, start to organise a marketing plan to be implemented the following January. Many local sponsors support the Opera by advertising in the opera programme.
Diane Treganowan, chair of the Summer Opera in the Gardens project is now retired from a lifetime in business as Finance and operations director of a large market research company. She has lived in Chiswick with husband, Richard (also involved in both the opera and Treasurer of the charity Chiswick House Friends) for 30 years. They are keen opera fans and often visit the Royal Opera House.
"In fact, Chiswick is where we met, so we have a long association with the area, as do many of the committee members. Park Road, which borders the House and Gardens, is a unique London road where many neighbours enjoy great friendships and it is from this road that many of the committee members come. The three main people (Diane, Louise Chapman and Jo Monroe) who oversee and take responsibility for the entire event live, and are friends, in Park Road. We three have been involved for years and it is the sense of achievement and the team work which keeps us involved," says Diane.
The committee members come from a variety of backgrounds, Law, Architecture, Finance, Business, Arts but they are all united in their love of Chiswick House and Gardens.
One member said before the restoration in 2010, "When the park started to become run down and the paths were always muddy/statues missing and broken/ trees overgrown and weeds proliferating in the woodland areas – I thought it time to exercise my skills and abilities and help to get things changed."
Not all of the volunteers are opera fans, but the Summer Opera is not just aimed at opera lovers. The evening involves picnicking and socialising, enhanced by the backdrop of Chiswick House itself and thus has a wide appeal.
Well known locals like Macken Butchers, Busby's Pharmacy and Sam's Brasserie have supported them every year - in fact over 35 local companies support the event including Fuller's ( the major sponsor) and this year, BMW.
After many logistics meetings full of camaraderie and fun, the group put up the banners and posters, print the programme, sell tickets, finalise their operations plan/ health and safety procedures/ delivery instructions and brace themselves for the final week of activities.
Diane says that their biggest challenge is promoting the opera to the extent that they achieve a full or near full house (1000 capacity each night) in order to make a profit.
"Profit for the charity is a big motivator for us all on the committee as we want to be rewarded for our considerable effort. As the years have gone by we have moved from an almost amateurish production to what is now a very professional event with a wonderful cast of professional opera singers, an award-winning conductor and composer (Ben Ellin) with a 14 piece orchestra, Keith Cheetham, an award-winning artistic Director, a great stage and enhanced sound system.
"All this is achieved with very little increase in the ticket price (£25 in year 1 - £30 in year 10) as we want to keep it affordable and accessible to the local community. Of course, for an outdoor event, the weather is crucial but whatever the weather, the show goes on.
"During the build up we say we will never do it again, but home after an exhausting but exhilarating week, we start thinking about next year all over again".
The Chiswick House Friends Opera Committee is; Bernadette Barber, Louise Chapman, Wendy Chivers, Izabela Cruickshank, Jan Flower, Robin Foreman-Quercus, Angela Grashoff, Anita Hamilton, Jane McKenzie, Jo Monroe, Menna O’Neill, Maddy Pugh, Eddy Roberts, Margaret Roberts, Nicole Ruduss, Diane Treganowan (Chair), Richard Treganowan.
You can win tickets to see the performances next week by entering a competiton - here
June 26, 2014