Opera al fresco? What could possibly go wrong?

Stag beetles and bats are among the hazards of outdoor performances, says Michael Volpe, head of Opera Holland Park. And don't get him started on the weather...

As she settled into the rhythm of her aria, Julia Riley, singing Dorabella in our current production of Cosí fan tutte, felt something scramble on to her hand. With a thousand people hanging on her every word, she glanced down to see a small bat hanging nonchalantly from her wrist. Impressively, she continued as if nothing had happened but a nearby chorus member almost levitated sideways into the arms of fellow chorister squealing "hold me, hold me!".

It was just another night at Opera Holland Park where a week before, Aldo di Toro's Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, bereft and intent on suicide, had a very large stag beetle attempt to do the job for him by almost lodging itself in his open, wailing mouth. It was a close call but he, too, carried on regardless. Carrying on regardless is something singers in festivals like ours must do.

We spend time and money creating a beautiful theatre that keeps off the rain, tries to block out the wind and still retain all of the glories that sitting outdoors on a warm evening can bestow upon the operagoer. But we have challenges to face, and no amount of architectural mitigation save for brick walls and a tiled roof will keep out the drone of a passing helicopter or the shriek of an irritating French schoolchild. I myself am less patient of it than almost anybody and have had many confrontations with cricketers, footballers and a United Nations of schoolchildren (the French are by far the noisiest by the way).

Animals are another thing entirely and in 23 years there has been a menagerie of interventions from rabbits, squirrels, foxes, dogs, various small mammals and one year a dangerous hive that a Jamaican member of staff dubbed the "nes' a waps" which as an Italian I could have taken offence at. And it is not uncommon to find me chasing a large frog along the carpet as staff and patrons scatter from the path of the pursuit.

Although the peacocks have become something of an iconic interruption at Opera Holland Park, even being considered a critical part of the experience for some, we ourselves expressed our view of this by marketing a "Peacock Pie" at the bar. It was legal game in the pie of course, but the idea just made us feel better. These large birds actually fly which means they get into trees around the theatre, squawking wildly when the territorial male birds consider "Vissi d'arte" a challenge. Then we have to issue enormous Super Soaker water pistols to chase them away. Several years ago a new flock of white peacocks was introduced and scattered to all four corners of the borough when Onegin shot Lensky. The police were inundated with calls and the birds were returned to the park only to meet their maker soon after in the jaws of Mr Fox. I have seen snakes too, but our park-ecology expert disputes this. A former house manager was terrified to the core by them so it didn't help when I approached him with an Indian Ball Python coiled sleepily on my arm saying I had found it in the yew hedge (I'd borrowed it from the ecology centre). He ran shrieking across the theatre, on to the set of Tosca and out of the stage door, not stopping until he'd reached Notting Hill Gate.

From time to time there is a sprinkling of stardust and beautiful synchronicity in the appearance of park fauna; during La rondine ("The Swallow") in 2011, as Kate Ladner sang heartbreakingly of Magda's need to take to the wing and forsake her love, a robin swooped into the lanterns and lamps above the stage and to the fluttering, light-bejewelled bird, Magda sang her lament. No amount of planning can deliver such a bewitching scene.

The weather is our greatest enemy this year and we think constantly of new ideas to add even further protection so that we have a theatre we can adapt to every scenario. It needs to be architecturally beautiful, like our roof, so it won't be cheap and it is almost guaranteed that the moment we do it we will see the arrival of a scorcher. We welcomed global warming when we were told that the UK would enjoy a climate similar to that of southern Italy but when a patron wearing a mink coat is lauded and celebrated for her cleverness in June (as one recently was) you know the scientists might have made a balls of it.

Despite all of this – the animal invasions, the children, the flightpath – there really is something special about our theatre and the opera on the stage. Audiences tolerate the distractions because, ultimately, they are pretty rare and short-lived and they know that nine times out of 10, their patience will be richly rewarded with magic. It is easy, when windswept, irritated and chilled to the bone, to forget this but it won't stop me drawing those wall designs on the back of a fag packet. I dream of a glass-and-steel palace whose sides glide silently open or shut depending on the weather. Our enormous high-tension fabric and steel roof is an architectural wonder, as beautiful a structure as you will see in London. It is comfortable, with spacious luxurious seats, yet if it is cold, you may well curse its lack of solid walls. But there are rugs and the heat of passion on stage to fight off the chill. We, of course, retain hope with every arriving day that summer will accompany the dawn. They say it is the hope that kills you but at OHP it might just be a stag beetle.

Michael Volpe is General Manager of Opera Holland Park. The Opera Holland Park season continues until 4 August (operahollandpark.com)

Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower