If there’s a catalogue of all the theatres that exist in London, I don’t know of it. But there are more than you’d expect, in sometimes hidden places. And one I’ve only just discovered is the McIntosh Theatre, Fulham, which you wouldn’t know about unless you’d visited the London Oratory School – because the McIntosh (named for a previous headmaster) sits within the school grounds and is mostly used for school productions.
But in truth, it’s far too good for schoolboys. Built some 20 years ago, it is well-appointed, comfortable, with 305 seats that make it perfect for small-scale productions. And should you wonder why the capacity is fixed at such an odd number, the story is that those few extra seats were put in for Tony Blair’s security guards when his children were at the school and he dutifully came to watch their end-of-term shows.
Being too good for schoolboys, though, the McIntosh gets used for other things at weekends and holiday times. And this month it plays host to something rather different from its normal function in a Catholic comprehensive school. For one week it becomes an international academy for baroque opera that will draw in promising young singers from around the world.
They’ll work on a production of Cavalli’s 17th-century comedy La Calisto, which will then play to the public. And they’ll do it at the invitation of a seasoned opera impressario, Monika Saunders, who’s been setting up academies like this for several years – though never previously at the London Oratory School.
They’ve usually happened at her home: an Arts and Crafts house outside Dorking, Surrey, with extensive Gertrude Jekyll gardens and a rustic amphitheatre by a lake where Saunders stages opera in the open air. Called Woodhouse Copse, it’s been in business as a concert/opera venue since 2000, running like a small-scale Glyndebourne but without the corporate hospitality, the black-tie dress code or the wickedly expensive tickets.
As her singers always tended to be young and at the start of their careers, it was by natural development that Saunders hit on the idea of turning what she did into a training opportunity, as much about the process of creating opera as the end result. Hence her academy.
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