Setting new standards for unamplified outdoor acoustics
Garsington Opera Pavilion Wormsley, United Kingdom
Garsington Opera Pavilion
Since 1989 Garsington Opera has staged successful summer opera seasons in temporary pavilions, originally in the gardens of Garsington Manor – home of Garsington Opera founders Leonard and Rosalind Ingrams, and, since 2011, on the grounds of Wormsley Park, home of the Getty family.
Upon the relocation of Garsington Opera to Wormsley Park, Snell Associates was commissioned to design a new 600-seat Opera Pavilion. To meet planning conditions and the wishes of the Getty family, the pavilion would have to be of a lightweight, transparent fabric skinned, demountable design – capable of being completely dismantled and placed in storage for nine months of the year. The company’s General Director Antony Whitworth-Jones approached Sound Space Design (SSD) to undertake the challenging task of creating an outstanding acoustic for performers and patrons within a lightweight building. Anne Minors Performance Consultants (AMPC) was asked to undertake several sightline studies on seating layouts for the pavilion, and produce representative images of different views and three-dimensional models to help the Board visualise and make important decisions regarding the audience and performer experience.
Research into the fundamental acoustic properties of fabrics allowed SSD to maximise reverberance and acoustical strength in the pavilion, achieving standards of resonance and envelopment not normally possible in fabric structures. To allow the audience to enjoy the light and views of Wormsley Park, some of the acoustically shaped walls are made from transparent materials. Externally, SSD and Snell Associates devised an innovative outer roof membrane for the pavilion which effectively reduces noise intrusion from rainfall. Within the pavilion the sightline studies carried out by AMPC optimised the seating geometry, elevating the front rows and resulting as the architect Robin Snell put it – in there being ’not one bad seat in the house.’
Garsington Opera continues to go from strength to strength with a mixed programme including education, outreach and digital innovations. The Garsington Opera Pavilion has won multiple awards, architecturally, acoustically and theatrically, and it is still amongst the finest pop-up performance venues in the U.K., setting new standards for unamplified outdoor acoustics.
Garsington Opera – 01
Each year, this exquisite house set in the most idyllic landscape, delights its audiences new and old with inventive, thoughtful productions despite the theoretical drawbacks of a stage without a back and an auditorium constructed mainly of glass. No one who has visited here has failed to be enchanted with the place.
Garsington Opera – 02
It’s remarkably consistent and disciplined and, as befits this eccentric festival, totally unique and radical.