The striking new 400-seat theatre at Nevill Holt Opera, hidden inside a historic courtyard, has won three RIBA East Midlands Awards 2019 including the RIBA award for Conservation, and the coveted Building of the Year award. Designed by Stirling Prize winning architects Witherford Watson Mann and theatre designers Sound Space Vision, built by Messenger BCR and supported by the David Ross Foundation, this incredible award underpins Nevill Holt Opera’s commitment to delivering world class opera in a truly exceptional setting.
At the RIBA East Midlands Award ceremony on Thursday 9th May, Colin McColl, Chair of the RIBA jury said: “This is a project that looks effortless, yet we all know that this belies the truth. The modesty, craftsmanship, care and attention that have been applied here are exceptional.”
The astonishing space, housed within a 17th century stable block on the Grade I-listed Leicestershire estate, has replaced ten years of temporary tent structures. The character of the historic stable block remains a significant part of the theatre’s aesthetic, the auditorium at first hidden from view behind the original courtyard stone walls, and the theatre within fully revealed on entering the building. As described by the RIBA jury, its ‘exquisite’ concrete walkways are cast with wooden boards while the chestnut on the floors and balcony fronts contrast with the elegant simplicity of the courtyard room. The building’s restrained but rich material palette is brought to life by a flood of daylight from the large central rooflight, acting as a reminder that the historic function of the courtyard, now transformed into a stunning and exceptional performance space.
With optimal technical stage equipment and an increased pit capacity, the natural materials, skilfully selected for their acoustic warmth and visual fit, support Nevill Holt Opera’s acclaimed high artistic and musical standards, while retaining the intimacy that the company is known for.
The Jury’s citation described how the new roof and upper walls of the auditorium are all from a lightly sand blasted larch, picking up the more honey coloured hues of the local Clipsham stone. The rhythm of the cladding pattern is informed by the rhythm of the existing stable joists behind – part of a larger acoustic tuning exercise to support young opera singers’ voices.
WIth a horseshoe-shaped hall, (a shape long favoured by opera companies to enhance the overall intensity of the audience experience), the new theatre at Nevill Holt Opera provides considerable acoustical reflections, resonance, clarity and immersion that come together to breathe life into their productions. It is, as the Observer review described, ‘a place where Opera can feel fresh and alive’.
This year’s festival, supported by the David Ross Foundation, will open with a new production of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As one of the great masterpieces of English opera and the perfect fit for a midsummer festival, it will be directed by Anna Morrissey (Noye’s Fludde 2017) and designed by Simon Kenny (Le Nozze di Figaro 2018), under the baton of Artistic Director Nicholas Chalmers.
The 2019 season will conclude with an elegant art-deco staging of Cosi Fan Tutte – Mozart’s high energy tale of love, temptation and partner-swapping. Adele Thomas (Berenice, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House; Eyam, The Oresteia, Shakespeare’s Globe; Cosi fan Tutte, Northern Ireland Opera) will take the helm of reviving the original acclaimed production from Northern Ireland Opera, while showing the highly successful partnership with Royal Northern Sinfonia.
With crisp, warm acoustics and excellent sight-lines, it’s a very pleasant new place to see and hear opera indeed (The Guardian).
With a history of hosting touring opera productions on the historic estate since 2005, Nevill Holt Opera was founded in 2013 as an independent festival with its own distinctive vision. Since then NHO has been committed to casting and working with young UK opera singers, while bringing world class opera to the East Midlands.
Photo credit: Hélène Binet