I’m just about to step inside a Victorian time capsule to meet next year’s Figaro characters, Susanna and Basilio, at the Grange Festival’s Christmas party. It’s being held at Rotherfield, James and Judy Scott’s vast Gothic house where towers, pinnacles and battlements stare out across the park in all their glory. Robert and I arrive on the dot of 6.30pm, but the party is already buzzing as we enter the outer hall, where antlers’ heads peer down on us. Rachel is one of the first people I see – we’re both wearing a sparkly top, a bit of a relief, as I’d wondered what to wear because this party is only for The Founders, the Grange Festival’s most valued patrons, and like the rest of Club Figaro, it’s the first time we’ve been invited.
The Floyds and Balfours follow us into the immense staircase hall and Jamie and Carolyn chat to Michael (sporting a bright red reversible silk jacket which is canary yellow later on), while the rest of us spot friends from all over Hampshire. Champagne in hand, we’re served exquisite canapes created by Rebecca Cooper who’ll be doing all the catering at the Festival next year. Then there’s a hush before Ellie Laugharne (Figaro’s Susanna) wafts down the magnificent staircase singing ‘ I Could Have Danced All Night’. It’s terrific, and that’s just the start of the musical soiree. We not only have a taste of next year’s Figaro arias from Susanna and Basilio (Ben Johnson), but hear a range of different melodies pouring out of them – musicals, opera, songs, carols. It ends with us singing Hark the Herald with a descant lead by Ellie and, surprisingly, Rebecca.
What a brilliant taste of things to come. In March we’re going to an evening at Brooks’s Club in London where members of the Figaro cast will sing, and we’ll hear Martin Lloyd-Evans, director of the Grange Festival’s Figaro, describe the man behind the musician and discuss Mozart’s great collaboration with his outrageous librettist, da Ponte. Roll on 2019!