The full programme for this year’s Grimeborn Festival has been announced by Arcola Theatre. Taking place at the London-based theatre once again, the festival features a varied programme of 14 operas comprising a mix of traditional favourites, new interpretations of forgotten works and tales from around the globe.

The festival kicks off with a revival of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea, 1643). Baroque specialist Ensemble OrQuesta returns to Arcola with a revival which explores the power games and machinations of ancient Rome alongside timeless themes of ambition, love and lust.

The production runs 26-30 July.

Black, el payaso (Black, the Clown) by Spanish composer Pablo Sorozábal, with a libretto by Spanish writer and journalist Francisco Serrano Anguita, tells the story of two clowns, who while exiled from a country immersed in civil war, find themselves in the heart of the Parisian underworld at a time of revolution.

This Spanish operetta – or zarzuela – first premiered in Spain in 1942. This Cervantes Theatre production directed by Paula Paz marks its UK premiere. It runs 2-6 August.

Taking place on the same evenings and programmed so you can watch both are new versions of a well-known classic and a lesser-known masterpiece.

Carmen is a supermarket check-out girl flirting outrageously with new security guard Don Jose, much to the confusion and embarrassment of his fiancée Micaela. Things get even more complicated when Carmen’s ex-boyfriend, TikTok celebrity Escamillo, shows up.
This contemporary reimagining of Bizet’s story features music by Leo Geyer after Bizet and a libretto by Joanna Turner after Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy.

Dame Ethel Smyth’s comic opera The Boatswain’s Mate put female emancipation centre stage when it was premièred in 1916. This revival of a 1950s production is set in Margate in 1953 as the UK celebrates the coronation of its new queen.

But the landlady of a quiet seafront pub is confronted with a suitor who simply won’t take no for an answer. When he comes up with a last-ditch plan to win her heart, our formidable heroine gives him more than he’d bargained for.

Both productions run 9-13 August.

Lindsay Bramley’s English-language version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute (1791) returns to Arcola after a sell-out run in 2019. Tamino and Pamina find themselves caught between the machinations of the Queen of the Night and her enemy Sarastro, on a quest for truth, honesty, love and balance. Performances run 17-20 August.

Director Emma Jude Harris’s radical rethink of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore (1878) offers a sharp critique of the piece’s underlying imperialism. Set aboard a British warship, the original satirises the rigid British class system. But Harris’s new version looks beneath the witty fun of the opera.

The production runs 23-27 August.

Grimeborn continues with the world premiere of Sin the Musical. Written by new British writer John-Michael Mahoney, this original musical blends jazz with contemporary pop to tell a story of hope, ambition and betrayal.

Set in 1920s New York, an unexpected inheritance injects wealth into a group of working-class friends. It’s only a matter of time before opportunity corrupts the minds of those who encounter it. The one-off performance takes place on 25 August, with tickets priced at £10-15.

Eleanor Burke’s innovative production of Bluebeard’s Castle (1918), Bartók’s only opera, explores the obsessive desire of an artist-muse relationship and how women interact with male fantasies projected onto them.

Judith stands on the threshold of the castle. Needing to know what secrets lie beyond the seven locked doors and within the man she loves, she steps into the darkness. Performances take place 31 August-3 September.

Verity Lane’s production of Sumida River, which premieres in summer, is a re-imagining of 650-year-old Japanese Noh (mask) play Sumidagawa by Kanze Motomasa. It is performed by Deaf performers in Japanese and British sign languages.

It tells the story of a woman taken across the river’s churning waters by a ferryman in search of her lost son, but all she finds is a ghost child, using percussive music and haunting shadow play. The single performance takes place on 4 September.

Director Alexia Mankovskaya presents a double bill of And I Decided… by Daniel Felsenfeld and The Bear (1967) by William Walton. The former, premiering here, is a provoking take on the imagined lives of two famous literary women and one porn star after their moments of notoriety; the latter is a rarely performed operatic parody, channelling the arch humour of Chekhov’s play of the same name.

It takes place 5-7 September; tickets cost £12-25. On 5 September only, The Bear will not be playing; instead And I decided… will be followed by a post-show Q&A: ‘Feminism in contemporary opera’.

The Unravelling Fantasia of Miss H is a new contemporary opera inspired by the true story of Mary Frances Heaton, who was born in 1801. In 1837, she was arrested for a breach of the peace and sentenced to a lifetime confinement in Wakefield Asylum. The work is based on her embroidered words of defiant protest and the surviving medical records from her confinement.

There are just two performances, on 9 and 10 September. Tickets cost £12-25.

The only production not to take place at Arcola sees Grimeborn return to Hackney Empire for a double bill of Wagner’s Siegfried (1876) and Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods, 1876). Graham Vick and Jonathan Dove’s innovative reductions bring Arcola’s Ring Cycle to a dramatic conclusion.

Performances take place on 6 and 7 August, with tickets costing £17-59.

Tickets for all productions are on sale now, costing £12-30 unless otherwise stated.



Arcola Theatre’s Grimeborn Festival 2022 features 14 operas, with four new works.