National treasure Joanna Lumley OBE FRGS is the leading Appeal Patron for Grange Park Opera’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ in Surrey, the first new opera house to be built in the UK for decades. Happily, it is not far from our shop, so we grabbed the chance to catch up with Joanna to ask about her travels, love of music …and black trousers…
As an author, actress, TV presenter and former model, has overseas travel always played an important part in your life?
Yes because I was born in a suitcase leaving India at the age of one and living in Hong Kong and Malaysia until I was eight. Long sea voyages punctuated my childhood and left me with a longing to keep moving.
What do you never forget to pack on your travels?
Black trousers, a torch and books.
Which passport stamp are you most proud of?
Pretty keen on my Mongolian one.
Do you have a favourite destination you return to as often as possible?
I loved Ethiopia, where I made part of a documentary, with a passion, and plan to return as soon as I can
Where would you like to go next…?
India again: filming but also savouring the fabulous variety of that stupendous country.
Who is your dream travel companion?
My husband; but I mostly travel now with a tiny film crew. We have become best friends and I love working with them.
Music plays a big part in your life too…why is it so important to you?
I was born listening to the greats… Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak, Chopin… on a wind-up gramophone in the Far East. I would suffocate with no music in my life.
What persuaded you to take on the role of Patron for Grange Park Opera (GPO)’s appeal for its exciting, new Theatre in the Woods?
It was the easiest decision I have ever made. I love what GPO does, and how it behaves: all are welcome and their standards are sky-high. The Theatre in the Woods is stunningly attractive and will be a new wonder of the glorious Surrey countryside.
What are your ambitions for this extraordinary new opera house, currently being built in 350 acres of Surrey countryside surrounding 15th century mansion West Horsley Place?
It will be utterly magical: the combination of the majesty of that ancient house and its grand spreading gardens, and the music and dance that will take place in the Theatre in the Woods will be unbeatable.
GPO initiatives such as £35 tickets for the under-35s seek to encourage the young to sample opera – do you recall your first performance? Grace Bumbry singing Aida in about 1964… awesome.
When the curtain rises on 8 June 2017, sum up in three words what you will be feeling…?
Thrilled, proud and happy.
If you could cast your perfect opera, who would perform and what would it be?
Maria Callas and Jussi Bjorling in Tosca. Hearing Callas singing Vissi d’arte is a masterclass in both singing and acting; she was truly as good as it gets. She knew exactly how to portray passion, despair, love and hatred, and Puccini’s music is sublime. Jussi Bjorling had a voice I would swim oceans to hear. A giant.
And if you had to describe yourself as a character in an opera, who would it be and why?
I would rather like to be the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro: although she has a rather wretched time with a scoundrel of a husband, she has an aria so lovely that whenever I hear the music beginning I start to sob hopelessly.
First published in Haslemere Traveller magazine, see www.haslemeretravel.co.uk