Crowds enjoying Latitude festival (Credit: Sarah Koury)


Latitude is the pioneering younger sibling of mainstream festivals Reading and Leeds. It stands out from the rest of the Festival Republic family – former operators of mud-slick Glastonbury – for its inventive programming, which, along with the usual rock and pop fare, includes opera, poetry, ballet, theatre, literature and cabaret.

Its line-up is integrated into beautiful Suffolk countryside: at this year's event (13-16 July), festival punters could enjoy Opera North's immersive woodland installation based on Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, sit among giant lilacs and literally punt across the lake. Katherine Jenkins plumped for the latter as she made her entrance on the waterfront stage for the key Sunday lunchtime slot.

Clutching a jewel-encrusted microphone and waving to the crowds gathered on both sides of the banks – and the adjoining bridge – the mezzo-soprano sung Cohen's Hallelujah as she was helped aboard the floating construction. It was, as she explained, the first time that she had performed at this type of event, and she admitted the experience was 'more nerve-wracking than singing at the Royal Albert Hall'. But the crowd adored her and her selection of arias and 'songs sung in a classical style'.

Her pianist, Jane Samuel, and the Masquerade String Quartet were all heavily amplified in order to cope with the outside setting. Despite this, a strand of music from a stage in another field would occasionally filter through, giving the music an Ivesian feel. Habanera from Carmen was rapturously received, as was World in Union, the theme song from the Rugby World Cup that features the theme from Jupiter, taken from Holst's The Planets.

This was not a traditional song recital, and must not be judged as such. Perhaps the amplification did mar the tonal quality, and the likes of You'll Never Walk Alone from Carousel (recently performed by Jenkins with Alfie Boe at the Coliseum) is not to everyone's taste. However, like former waterfront stage headliners Lang Lang and pianist James Rhodes, Jenkins succeeded in bringing a taster of classical music – a new experience for many listeners – to a huge number of people (Latitude hosted over 40,000 people this year).

Elsewhere, the Royal Opera House and the V&A previewed their upcoming exhibition Passion, Power and Politics (V&A: 30 September 2017 – 25 February 2018), which explores seven premieres in seven European cities over 400 years. Visitors were invited to sample a recording of Verdi's Nabucco while viewing an image of the inside of the Royal Opera House, giving the impression that we were ensconced on stage.

Composer Vicky Stone amused and impressed with her Concerto for comedian and orchestra, an action-packed piece that tells the story of a troubled couple whose purchase of a dishwasher signals their unraveling. The show is peppered with viola jokes, culminating in the viola section walking off stage. They return, and the viola becomes a central symbol in the outer narrative, saving the protagonists from despair. Other 'in' jokes include a scheduled 'audience cough' in between movements and a frowning disapproval for latecomers and those who applaud. The parody served as a reminder of our need to dismantle certain elements within our traditional concert etiquette to make classical music welcoming to newcomers – something that Latitude is clearly committed to.

Claire Jackson

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