There’s some good news for those who enjoy discovering emerging musical talent. You no longer have to fight heavy traffic driving into a busy city, nor battle to find a parking place. A wide range of talent varying from opera, jazz, folk and gospel are all to be found at Clonter Theatre. You’ll find this little gem near Swettenham, in the heart of the Cheshire countryside, surrounded by lawns covered with daffodils and bluebells. There, audiences can spot the stars of tomorrow – and the parking is free!
The successful Clonter was the brainchild of Jeffery Lockett who lives next door to the theatre in Clonterbrook House. Originally built in 1697 for Jeffery and Katherine Lockett, it passed from the family in 1769, but was bought back by Derek and Elizabeth Lockett in 1939 who set about its restoration.
Jeffery read agriculture at St John’s College, Cambridge before National Service, and married Anita while still an undergraduate. He became an agricultural consultant and ran the family dairy farm. He was High Sheriff of Cheshire in 1989 and a member of the Countryside Landowners Association as well as the National Farmers Union. A Fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music, he became Master of the Musicians’ Company and Deputy Lieutenant of Cheshire. In 2003 he received an MBE for Services to Music. I nominated him for a MEN Theatre Award in 2006, and in 2012 he was made a Doctor of Music by the University of Chester in recognition of his outstanding contribution to opera.
“It all began when my wife and I held a charity concert in a barn and the audience sat on straw bales,” Jeffery laughingly recalls. “It proved such a success that Clonter Opera has since expanded to become a 400 fixed-seat auditorium with an orchestra pit and dining facilities. I project-managed the expansion while Anita remains involved with production management. Clonter Music Trust was founded in 1991 and our trustees generously donate time and sound advice.“
Jeffery and Anita’s three daughters are all involved in the Trust’s work. Isabella Roberts and Amanda Harman are joint chief executives while Sarah Farmer is chairman of the London Tour committee, and a trustee. Isabella explains: “As children we enjoyed helping productions during school holidays. But, as our parents grow older, we want to share more responsibilities. We all have different roles - but share as much of the work as we can.
Amanda is passionate about inspiring younger generations to learn performance skills, as part of the Trust’s mission to expand its outreach work. ”We work with over 3,000 children and teachers from 30 different schools each year. We’ve courses for children from eight upwards, not only to write their own five-minute performance, but to learn about stage management, set design, lighting, and performance. The voice is a free instrument so we encourage singing everything from pop songs to musicals and opera.”
Isabella explains: “The Clonter’s Opera Prize is awarded each year to the winner of an inter-conservatoire opera prize competition which takes place in February. Singers are nominated by heads of opera at the principal music colleges in the UK. The audience collectively acts as one judge and, when the panel makes its decision, the audience’s vote is also revealed. This is ideal for anyone who is interested in spotting emerging talent and the work involved is really rewarding.”
Previous winners include Amanda Roocroft and Alfie Boe and I can personally recommend these entertaining events as my first visit saw a solo pianist playing for an entire opera where now there’s a small orchestra. Check about the traditional 70-minute supper interval during which you can bring your own picnic and bubbly - or book for a set meal. La Boheme, 20-28 July, 2018 (01260 224514; firstname.lastname@example.org)