Opera impresario flits from country house to prison

Mon May 10, 2010 1:34pm EDT
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By Barbara Lewis

LONDON (Reuters) - But for good luck, Wasfi Kani believes that instead of being a high-flyer in the financial markets turned opera impresario, she just might have found herself locked up in jail.

As it is, the London-based arts fund-raiser and social campaigner is preparing for the upcoming country house opera season, which she treats as a natural complement to the performances in prisons that she also leads.

"I was brought up in a council house (state housing) in the east end. I genuinely believe that I could be one of them (a prisoner) if I had not had amazing good fortune," Kani told Reuters, explaining her reasons for embarking on prison opera.

A sense the divide between the two ends of the social scale is much narrower than generally believed and a determination to make everyone understand that is a guiding force behind Kani's career.

After leaving her humble beginnings to study music at Oxford, Kani worked in the City of London (the square mile where most financial institutions have their offices) for 10 years until music drew her back.

In 1987, she set up Pimlico Opera, which as well as touring spends six weeks of every year working inside prisons to stage productions in which inmates perform alongside professional musicians.

Kani still runs that, but since 1997, she has also led Grange Park Opera, which puts on opera in an elegant country house in Hampshire, southern England, and provides strong competition to the longer-established "G-word," as Kani refers to Glyndebourne.

This year's Grange Park season begins on June 3 with Puccini's "Tosca," followed by Richard Strauss's "Capriccio" and Prokofiev's "The Love for 3 Oranges" and after a dip last year during the depth of economic recession, ticket sales are up.   Continued...