Opera Scotland

Ledlanet Nights

Ledlanet Nights was one of the more remarkable artistic ventures in Scotland, operating  from 1962 for around ten years. Professional performances mounted on a shoestring budget were held in the hallway at Ledlanet, then the country home of the publisher John Calder.  This Victorian baronial mansion was splendidly situated near Milnathort, Kinross-shire, offering fine views to the south over stretches of central Fife.  

Many art forms were offered, among which were opera, theatre, recitals and orchestral concerts, with the early, perhaps unexpected, addition of folk evenings. The mix included one- or two- person productions of different types as well as art exhibitions. These were for the most part produced especially for Ledlanet, but later shows were often 'bought in' from a tour.

One element that survives is the increased provision of orchestras in Scotland. Ledlanet became the reason for the establishment of a professional chamber orchestra, to play for operas and concerts. This eventually became known as the Scottish Baroque Ensemble, under the leadership of Leonard Friedman, and it was soon recruited to play for Scottish Opera in the Britten repertoire. This in turn developed to provide orchestral accompaniment for Scottish Opera's stagings of Mozart, Rossini and others. Two of today's musical groups, the Scottish Ensemble and Scottish Chamber Orchestra, therefore have their roots in events at Ledlanet.

John Calder had always had a reputation as an opera enthusiast and it is in this context that we remember the festival today.  In 1963, when opera was seen in Scotland at the Edinburgh International Festival and through brief tours by Sadler's Wells, Scottish Opera had only just been founded. Any additional opera, even on a small scale, was to be welcomed.

Handel works, then hardly known, featured prominently at Ledlanet, with productions including PartenopeAgrippina, and Alcina. Rareties by Monteverdi, Mozart and Gluck also featured, along with more modern repertoire - The Turn of the Screw was especially memorable in this highly atmospheric location. Jill Gomez, Philip Langridge and Josephine Barstow were among several singers appearing at Ledlanet who made an impression there at a relatively early stage in their careers; the first two in Il Re Pastore and the last in Una Cosa Rara. Sir Geraint Evans appeared in Cimarosa's Il maestro di cappella, while Ian Wallace was a regular visitor.

Ledlanet Nights remained small scale - even at its peak in 1973 there were seats for only 155 people – and that in the days before modern concerns with health and safety, risk assessment, and the strict enforcement of fire regulations.

Performers and audience members alike remember well the intimate atmosphere. Several recalled the approach up the hill towards the house lights shining in the darkness, and the sense of something special.

With little or no support from public coffers, the Festival was heavily dependent on fundraising by regular patrons and supporters. By 1973 this was no longer sustainable.  

A personal view is provided by John Calder in his autobiography, Pursuit, where he attributes the sudden end of Ledlanet Nights to the financial consequences of divorce from his second wife.

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