How does one reconcile a brand new opera theatre with a 15th century manor house? The decision to pursue a traditional horseshoe inspired by Teatro alla Scala in Milan was helpful. Placing the theatre in woodland close to, but concealed from, the historic house resolved the dilemma.
Behind a majestic crinkle-crankle wall and nestling in dappled woodland, the horseshoe configuration may be interpreted with some freedom. The theatre, glimpsed amongst the trees, will appear as a textured brick drum; its cladding echoing the splendid ancient walls of the house and gardens.
The brief was simple: four tiers of seating in a ‘U’ form, with a volume and surfaces designed to target an optimum reverberation time of 1.4 seconds. A generous pit enables the orchestral sound to develop within and, with the tiered seating butting into the 11m x 7.5m proscenium, an intimacy between performers and audience is secured. As they enter the building, guests will encounter the full spacial volume of the auditorium – conceived as a ‘decorated room’.
The walled gardens and historic buildings provide the bars, restaurants and meeting places normally located inside a theatre. The foyer atrium is generous; around it thirteen tree-like columns soar from floor to roof. Backstage accommodation provides all that is necessary for the performers, musicians and stage technicians including dressing rooms, green room, wig, prop and equipment stores, and an unloading dock. The side stages are sufficiently large to provide for the three or four sets used in a single festival season. The stage, taken with the side stages, offers the possibility of a ‘studio format’ performance space, operating independently of the tiered auditorium.
The theatre is kept cool on warm summer nights by air passing through, and being cooled by, a subterranean labyrinth set beneath the seats of the stalls. Future winter use will require heater batteries to be installed, and for warm air exhausted from the theatre to be re-circulated with fresh air drawn in from outside.
High on the outside wall above the main door and set within the diamond patterned brickwork is a balcony from which trumpeters will summon the audience to the performance – an idea inspired by Wagner’s Bayreuth.