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Mandy Curtis at Wednesday’s ‘Way Forward’ event (photo: © JJ Waller).

Opera garden party fulfils a dream

At the Way Forward meeting last night, Mandy Curtis from 18 hours told local residents about this year’s extended St Leonards Festival and why she wanted to add a ticketed opera garden party to the existing one-day, free community Saturday. HOT’s Erica Smith wanted to find out more and caught up with Mandy whilst she and her team of organisers set the finishing touches to the schedules.

Osadia from Barcelona.

Why did you want to add an opera event to the St Leonards Festival?
I first applied to organise the St Leonards Festival back in 2005, and worked on the first four festivals from 2006–09. I’ve always loved this festival because it’s OUR local festival, and creates a sense of pride in St Leonards. When the Town Team asked for expressions of interest for this year’s festival, I wanted a new challenge rather than to do the same thing again. I grew up in Oxford – in Blackbird Leys Estate, not ‘dreaming spires Oxford’.  But there was a local festival which started as a small opera garden party at a walled garden in nearby Garsington. That was my role model – I love the idea of bringing open-air opera to St Leonards. It has never been done before. The idea of adding a ticketed event on the Sunday is to help financially support the free community event on the Saturday. All the marquees and infrastructure are already there, it seems crazy to leave them empty for the rest of the weekend. We have worked with Opera South East and Barefoot Opera to create a programme of arias, chorus hits, solos and duets which will appeal to Opera die-hards and people who might be listening to opera for the first time.

What are you looking forward to most over the festival weekend?
I love the parade – and this year it will be setting off at 3.30pm on the Saturday from the sea front at the foot of Warrior Square. There are workshops running all day for families to make their own musical instruments and join in the parade. Musafir from Rajasthan are leading the event, and there will be all sorts of local groups and individuals participating. The market and food stalls are also a highlight for me. All that delicious street food! And it’s great to see Anton (the market organiser) establishing such a successful street market in Kings Road.

I’m also really looking forward to seeing Osadia at the Opera Garden Party who are flying in specially from Barcelona to create giant operatic hair-dos on people’s heads – some of the performers from the opera groups will have their hair done, but also members of the audience!

And what’s been the biggest success of the festival so far?
Establishing the Young Producers and extending the festival to include Friday evening, Sunday AND the Fringe on Saturday have all been great, but the biggest organisational success for me so far has been establishing the Classical Networking Group who have helped us programme the Sunday.

How can we show our support for St Leonards Festival?
Come along and participate! On all three days! We appreciate that not all individuals and local businesses can contribute large amounts of sponsorship, but I really do ask everyone who can afford it to buy a ticket for the opera on Sunday. Advance tickets are only £12 – and under-16s are free!

You can find out more about the Opera Garden Party on the festival website.

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Posted 16:39 Wednesday, Jul 2, 2014 In: One Long Party

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