Nevill Holt Opera

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Application Type

Civic Trust Awards

Level of Award

Award

Region

East Midlands

Local Authority Area

Leicester

Information about this scheme

The brief was to design a permanent festival theatre for opera in the yard of 17th- and 19th-Century stable block, replacing a temporary scaffold and canvas theatre with a 375 – 400 seat auditoria, a proscenium stage with orchestra pit and modest backstage facilities have been provided.

Three main challenges were overcome: firstly, to create a theatre whose acoustics would support the younger performers who sing at Nevill Holt Opera; secondly to make the most of the distinctive iron stone walls of the stable yard, using them to support the character of the performance space; thirdly, to have works completed within twenty-nine months, ready for the 2018 festival.

The long ironstone building is quite grand for a stable; for a theatre, on the other hand, it is compact and intimate. Designing a festival theatre required a distilled response, focused on the unity of stage and auditorium: there was no scope for a fly-tower, nor for a foyer with a grand stair. Every addition or adjustment within the auditorium had to be judged on its merits, to work in relation to the ironstone walls, and the doors and windows that pepper them.

The stalls and orchestra pit at the centre of the stable yard were excavated, at sufficient distance to avoid underpinning, creating a walkway around the edge.

A new roof volume was built off the old stone walls, creating the maximum volume beneath the existing ridge line. Two-thirds of the seats are in the stalls, with a shallow rake and large radius; one- third are in a balcony, set relatively high to maintain the presence of the stone walls, and with a tight radius to focus the performance space; side balconies continue to the proscenium line. The balcony is set at 600 mm off the walls, with voids sculpted out of its soffit responding to the tall doorways. The material palette of stone, concrete, stained wood and grey textile is restrained. These materials are warmed and brought to life by the daylight from the large central rooflight - as it rakes across the rough stone walls, the light reminds you that this is still a courtyard, even if it is no longer a stable yard.

Nevill Holt and the new theatre is an inspirational setting for students and staff. The provision of a permanent and beautiful theatre enables NHO to stage a growing programme of work year-round. While the 2018 season consisted of seven summer festival operatic performances, the 2019 season has featured 22 events. As well as staging nine world-class opera performances, they have been able to reach a larger audience in 2019 with a broader range of NHO-produced events and performances, including chamber music, song recitals and concerts, nearly always featuring young artists.

The theatre has hosted the culmination of its own education programme with schools’ performances, and enabled them to develop community relationships by hosting events for other local arts organisations and charities in the area.

Credits

Architect

Witherford Watson Mann Architects

Conservation Architect

Julian Harrap Architects

Main Contractor

Messenger Construction

Quantity Surveyor

Gleeds

Services Engineer

Max Fordham

Structural Engineer

Price & Myers

Archaeologist

University of Leicester Archaeological Services

Client

David Ross Education Trust

Access Consultant

David Bonnett Associates

Planning Consultant

Rural Solutions

Fire Engineering

The Fire Surgery

Theatre Consultant

Sound Space Vision

Acoustic Consultant

Sound Space Vision

Primary Use Class

Class D2g - Theatre