Artistic Director & CEO Guy Withers talks about Waterperry Opera Festival 2023

Waterperry Opera Festival, based at the stunning Waterperry House & Gardens in Oxfordshire, is soon approaching its sixth festival as a company. When we founded the company, with a short 3-day festival in 2018, we would never have imagined the scale to which we have grown. In 5 festivals we have produced 26 new productions for over 11,500 attendees, and performed to thousands more with our touring productions around the UK. Our sixth festival is due to be our biggest and most ambitious yet. Rehearsals have already started and opening night is fast approaching.

Waterperry Opera Festival was founded with an ethos to bring opera and classical music to new people. Our mission is to break down barriers to access in the arts, and create an exciting and accessible festival that is affordable to the general public. Our summer season is a real festival, not like any other opera festival I know. A Saturday is jam-packed with events all kinds to whet anyone’s appetite. Mornings start off with a production or two for families, followed by a matinee opera in the amphitheatre or ballroom, then a series of free workshops or masterclasses, ending with a big outdoor evening opera spectacular, sometimes finishing with fireworks. A day at Waterperry Opera Festival is a veritable garden of delights, and fun for all the family. Over the years we have produced a wide variety of different productions and projects. We are not just interested in presenting familiar blockbuster operas, but often like to discover exciting rare works or develop something entirely new. In the past five years we have programmed contemporary dance, plenty of works for families, classical concerts, immersive operas, and commissioned new works.

Our audience is very diverse, with broad musical tastes. 10% of our audience every year have never been to an opera before, and for 30% of audiences we are there only access to classical music or opera annually. That is a huge responsibility; we have the opportunity to create life-long opera lovers. Since inception we have been producing productions for families and children, with great success. In 2022 alone 1,500 attendees (parents and children) saw our Peter and the Wolf production. This year our new production of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes will tour to festivals and museums around the country.

Without a traditional opera house, we have both the challenge and opportunity to mount opera, classical music and dance in the beautiful surroundings of Waterperry Gardens. We often make use of these gorgeous spaces, which make our work feel uniquely site-specific. Our 2021 production of Hansel & Gretel led audiences through the woods for an immersive nature-filled experience. Nature is a key theme in the works we produce, with Peter Rabbit’s Musical Adventure (Beatrix Potter/Haydn), The Fairy Queen (Purcell), and Peter and the Wolf (Prokofiev) to name a few. This year we creating a new dance staging of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to be performed in the gardens. Waterperry House has been a wonderful space to programme for, and has seen a number of revivals of our critically-acclaimed production of Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park. A very intimate space, only for 80 seats, the ballroom offers a uniquely immersive and personal experience for any audience member. The ballroom also hosts our often sold out annual performances of Handel’s Messiah every Christmas.

For 2023 we have created an ambitious season of eight different productions; our most ever. With returning favourites, and exciting new ventures, our broad programme has something for everyone, with each offering as unique and thrilling as the next. We are taking artistic risks to create the exciting operatic experiences that will captivate the next generation of audiences as well as our loyal followers. Waterperry is a place where all are welcome, and we want to make sure there are no barriers to any young person enjoying or engaging with classical music and opera. Our 2023 festival will absolutely put Waterperry on the map.

Our headline production is Bizet’s Carmen, conducted by Festival Music Director Bertie Baigent. This striking new production will be set in front of the stunning façade of Waterperry House in grand spectacular style. In contract, our second main production is a beautiful double-bill of Handel’s Acis & Galatea and Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas. Both operas will be performed by the same ensemble cast conducted by Michael Papadopoulos; a sublime night of opera awaits.

There are two productions for families and children this summer; Peter Rabbit’s Musical Adventure for ages 0 – 5, and Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes for ages 5 and above. Both perfect for a child’s first experience of classical music. Other productions include the revival of Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park, new outdoor dance staging of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and performances of Judith Weir’s King Harald’s Saga; a hilariously entertaining 15-minute fast-paced one-woman show. Finally, to tie the ten-day festival together, we are hosting our very first Waterperry Prom offering a relaxed evening showcasing a programme of classical music’s well-known works. There really is something for everyone.

The festival runs from 10th – 20th August. Tickets are available from

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