Opera Scotland

Ledlanet Nights

Ledlanet Nights

Posted 28 Jun 2013

Almost exactly fifty years ago, the maverick publisher John Calder decided to start a festival in Ledlanet, the country house in Kinross-shire, which he'd recently inherited.  The first performances took place in September 1963; although the Festival (Ledlanet Nights) existed for not much over eleven years, it is fondly remembered by many, particularly for the operatic content. 

Calder, best remembered nowadays as the driving force behind the first Edinburgh Writers' conference (a forerunner of the Edinburgh Book Festival) and for his long association with Samuel Beckett, is an opera buff if ever there was one.

Calder early developed an appreciation for the operas of Handel, a rare thing in those days, and did much to promote them. Amongst the operatic landmarks at Ledlanet were the first modern production of Handel's Parthenope, followed by Agrippina and Alcina.  Gluck's Alceste, Britten's Turn of the Screw, Mozart's Bastien and Bastienne, Il re pastore, Idomeneo and La Clemenza di Tito were also given.

Calder was also in large part responsible for the first performance in modern times of a once popular opera from Mozart's time, Una Cosa Rara, by Martin y Soler.  In the banquet scene towards the end of Don Giovanni, Mozart included a popular air from Cosa Rara to be played by onstage musicians.

Among the later operatic offerings, Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel was given several performances in the atmospheric space that served as the auditorium. Scottish Opera's touring ensembles often performed there. Many other events were mounted, from folk nights, recitals, and one person shows to art exhibitions; and the house became a regular stop on the touring circuit. 

The festival however always struggled to make ends meet, and in his memoirs John attributes the end of Ledlanet Nights to the financial problems caused by the bitter ending of his second marriage.

At a time when Scottish Opera had not long started, and there was not much other professional opera outside the Edinburgh Festival, the contribution of Ledlanet Nights deserves to be better remembered. Opera Scotland will be recalling its achievements from time to time.

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