Preview: The Elixir Of Love, Grand Theatre, Lancaster

Historic house plays host to a labour of love
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The Independent Culture

There is a source of pride in the North-west, and it's called Heritage Opera. In 18 months, this vital touring company have turned out five new productions that have tickled and delighted audiences across the North. In the bag are La Bohème, Figaro, Onegin and a bolder Turn of the Screw. Now, they are on the road with Donizetti's The Elixir of Love.

The climax to Heritage's Elixir winter tour will be their first visit to the 450-seat Lancaster Grand Theatre, with a 13-piece chamber orchestra. It's not just what Heritage do, but where they go; historic houses in Blackburn, Burnley, Preston, the Wirral and Skipton all fall within their compass. For anyone living on their circuit, a visit by Heritage Opera is like a good tonic. Their productions, using young, often local, professionals, are astute, witty and polished.

The ensemble, financed entirely from box office, is the brainchild of Chris Gill, a conductor based in Lancashire. "Our audiences include many older people, who have seen opera before but hesitate to go into city centres. However, our main purpose is to attract people new to opera, in places where there are few opportunities to hear it."

Gill preserves the company's "chamber" identity: Heritage flourishes in "intimate venues, where audiences are no more than 15-20ft from the performers". They perform mainly with piano (the sparkling Paul Greenhalgh), in English or with surtitles, and in well-judged period costumes. "People said: 'Opera won't catch on in Wigan', but stereotypes can be wrong. We took La Bohème to Haigh Hall, part of Wigan's borough offices, got a full house and they loved it. The chief executive of the Leisure Trust, which runs historic Wigan's cultural amenities, has become a fan."

There is talk of a Magic Flute, and whispers of a newly commissioned opera. But for now, it's Donizetti. "The Elixir of Love has a very broad appeal," Gill says, "with archetypal characters and a story that's easy to understand. It's basically a love triangle, with a romantic comedy ending."

22 March (01524 64695)