Summer in England just wouldn’t be the same without an opera or two in a landscaped garden – from the expansive backdrop of The Grange Festival or the 2,700 acre Wormsley Estate which hosts Garsington Opera, to the intimate, secret-garden-esque Grade listed Harold Peto Garden in Bradford-on-Avon, an integral feature of Iford Opera; each venue can be appreciated for their remarkable individuality, adding an intoxicating element to the experience of opera-going, should you choose to take along your own picnic, or fine-dine during a lengthy interval.
From the original UK opera festival at Glydenbourne, more and more are popping up the length and breadth of the country, bringing more wonderful music to more counties than ever before. With an exciting line-up of repertoire greats this year, the 2018 British opera scene is bound to flourish as gloriously as the gardens in which they are situated. Here’s our guide to the most exquisite…
The 2018 Programme: Mozart’s final and best-loved opera, Die Zauberflöteopens the 2018 season of Garsington Opera (31 May – 21 July) in Buckinghamshire, with Cardiff Singer of the World prizewinner Louise Alder performing as Pamina. Capriccio by Richard Strauss (1 June – 28 June) is the fruit of Garsington Opera’s first collaboration with the world class Santa Fe Opera, with internationally renowned Swedish soprano Miah Persson, making her Garsington debut as the Countess. Conducted by Douglas Boyd. Verdi’s last opera, the larger-than-life Falstaff is (16 June – 22 July) the subject of a new production, with The Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Richard Farnes, RPS Conductor of the Year 2017. Finally, don’t miss the world premiere of leading British composer David Sawer & award-winning playwright Rory Mullarkey’s The Skating Rink (5 July – 16 July) based on the novel by Roberto Bolano. Garsington’s gripping new commission brings to life the story of Nuria, a beautiful young skating champion whose powerful, obsessive admirer pilfers funds in order to build her an ice rink in a deserted Spanish mansion.
The Experience: Black tie all the way, Garsington Opera sources only the finest musicians and performers, thrilled to perform at the award-winning modern opera house that has achieved a respected place within the international opera circuit. Countless marquees for elegantly attired picnickers are set up opposite the lawns and lake ensures a memorable evening. The grounds are accessible well ahead of the performance, with porters on hand to help you transport your foodstuffs from the car park, while Feasts at Garsington, designed by Michelin-starred chef Michael North offers a gourmet three courses plus coffee (£65) in the Long Room Restaurant overlooking the Wormsley Cricket Ground for those looking to make cuisine another highlight of their evening on the spectacular Wormsley Estate. To combine exemplary catering with the charm of bringing your own hamper, why not order a cream tea on arrival or canapés to be enjoyed on the elevated terrace of the Champagne ahead of the first act? Or Feast’s very own picnics and drinks can be pre-ordered and delivered to your marquee on the evening.
Garsington Opera, Wormsley Estate, Stokenchurch, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire HP14 3YE, for more information and tickets please visit the website or call the Box Office on 01865 361636.
Iford Arts’ Festival Opera
The 2018 Programme: My personal favourite due to the uniqueness of sharing the experience of opera with less than one hundred other punters, the enchanting atmosphere of Iford Manor and the Harold Peto Gardens, on the border of Somerset and Wiltshire, adds sheer romance to any musical performance. Their 2018 season has some killer works lined up for its loyal followers; a bold production of Candide (May 26–5 June) Leornard Bernstein’s interpretation of the Voltaire novel of the same name with lyrics by Richard Wilbur, with additional lyrics by the likes of Stephen Sondheim, Dorothy Parker and Leonard Bernstein. Conducted by Oliver Gooch, Music Director of Iford Arts, produced by Iford Arts, in collaboration with Opera della Luna and directed by Jeff Clarke, whose inventive, irreverent, hilarious shows at Iford have never failed to delight audiences, Candide promises to bring the French masterpiece alive in ways like never before. For something ‘Shakespearean’ in scope, the new production of Handel’s Partenope should fit the bill if you’re looking for romantic entanglements and plenty of laughs. Directed by Christopher Cowell who gave us a fine La boheme in 2017, his own new band ‘Contraband’ will be conducted from the harpsichord by Christopher Bucknall. Finally, Puccini’s most heart-wrenching work, Madame Butterfly (23 June-4 July), directed by Bruno Ravella, demands you bring tissues and an exploration of The Japanese Garden in the interval. Alongside the trio of operas, Iford Arts also runs more affordable prom evenings.
The Experience: unlike most opera festivals, dress code is smart casual rather than strictly black tie, adding a far more relaxed and informal tone to proceedings that makes a welcome change. Gates open well ahead of the performance to allow guests to enjoy a picnic on the lawn. Prepared picnics are available to order in advance and collect on the evening, while a small bar provides fizz and wine for those who don’t bring their own, or run out! Tea and biscuits are served in the interval for an added dose of English country charm.
Iford Arts, Iford Manor, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, BA15 2BA. Tickets from £126. For more information and tickets please visit the website.
West Green House Opera
The 2018 Programme: Entitled ‘Opera in a Garden of Enchantment’, West Green House Opera in Hampshire doesn’t disappoint in terms of horticultural splendour. Opening this year’s season is a revival of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide (21 & 29 July) at the Green Theatre, which opened on Broadway in 1956 to some controversy. Fully staged for the first time at West Green, this production is presented as part of the Bernstein 100 Celebration, marking the centenary of the composer’s birth. For something more romantic, a new production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (26 & 28 July) will be directed and designed by Richard Studer and conducted by Jonathan Lyness whose many productions for West Green have been acclaimed for their great imagination. With its blissful arias tender emotions, it’s a work you can never see too often. Finally, for those who enjoy political farce, Offenbach’s Ba-ta-clan (25 & 28 July), the composer’s first commercial success, is just the ticket. A ridiculous plot that pokes fun at nineteenth century politics, the cast of just four singers complemented by a superb small orchestra are on hand to deliver musical brilliance, caustic wit and a few surprises. West Green Opera’s Midday Music events are suitable for the whole family and feature performers from the ‘main stage’ operas in a more informal setting, while if you get tired of opera, heaven forbid, Marvellous Party! (20 & 27 July) is a celebration of the music of Cole Porter and Noel Coward performed in the Green Theatre.
The Experience: The dress code for all evening performances is black tie, while smart casual is acceptable for Pavilion events taking place during the day. The Garden, Tea Room and Lakefield Bar open at 5pm. Bring your own picnic and find a pretty spot to set up anywhere in the gardens. Alternatively you can pre-book a table seating up to six people in the shared undercover Pavilion or enjoy one of the Raj Tents, seating up to ten for your exclusive use. Prepared picnics and canapés can be ordered in advance and West Green House Opera is delighted to announce a new partnership with the renowned dining company Vanilla who will be providing all fine dining including the choice of £58 or £75 menus, served in the lovely glass sided Lakefield Pavilion in the heart of West Green House Gardens.
West Green House Opera, West Green House Gardens, Thackham’s Lane, near Hartley Wintney,
Hook, Hampshire, RG27 8JB. Tickets from £100. For more information and to book please visit the website or call the box office: 01252 848676.
The Grange Festival
The 2018 Programme: With an opera house situated within a sublime Grade I listed 19th-century neoclassically-styled mansion, the highly ambitious Grange Festival in Hampshire, which launched in 2017, is attracting a sophisticated kind of opera-goer. Artistic Director Michael Chance and Robert Howarth join forces once again for Handel’s hilarious, moving and clever Agrippina (8 June-6 July), with Anna Bonitatibus leading the world-class cast including the much sought-after countertenor Raffaele Pe and 2011 London Handel Singing Competition winner Stefanie True. Walter Sutcliffe, Northern Ireland Opera’s artistic director, and his designer Jon Bausor’s inspired vision brings to life the humour, satire and egomania of one of opera’s most outrageous leading women. Meanwhile, one of operas greatest masterpieces of comedy, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville which is based on the first of the Beaumarchais plays that revolve around the Almavivas and Figaro, this production will be conducted by Rossini specialist David Parry. John Copley returns to direct Mozart’s first comic masterpiece The Abduction from the Seraglio (24 June-7 July) in a specially commissioned English translation by David Parry, while a revival of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide (8 July) featuring a star-studded cast from Broadway and the West End was an instant sell-out.
The Experience: A true black tie gathering with plenty of celebrities, you’ll find some seriously glamorous picnickers at The Grange Festival. For those who don’t want to crease their gowns or risk grass stains (or rain!), The Wild Fork, headed up by leading game chef Mike Robinson, offers an exciting three course food experience (£67.50 three courses plus tea or coffee) served inside the main house during the extended interval. Alternatively you can pre-order a selection of their delicious canapés (£15 for ten) to be ready to collect from The Champagne Bar on arrival, or a gourmet picnic for two (£65) to enjoy in the grounds.
The Grange Festival, The Grange, Northington, Alresford, Hampshire SO24 9TG. For more information and tickets please visit the website or call the Box Office on: 01962 791 020.
Longborough Festival Opera, New Banks Fee, Longborough, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire
GL56 0QF. Tickets start from £50. For more information and to book please visit the website or call the Box Office on: 01451 830292.