A weekend in the country

I don’t mean this weekend in the country, though it’s definitely worth watching. I’m referring to country house summer opera festivals, which seem to enjoy extraordinary popularity in England. Many opera lovers have probably heard of the most famous, Glyndebourne. (You can enjoy their productions via video streams if you can’t make it to the festival in person because of the location or the hefty ticket prices.) But there are a lot more festivals out there, encompassing a wide variety of sizes, prices, locations, and repertoire. They’re united only by picturesque, hard-to-access settings and a long interval for a champagne-fueled picnic.

Garsington Opera's pavilion at the Wormsley Estate. Lanterns along the paths light your way home after the opera.
Garsington Opera’s pavilion at the Wormsley Estate. Lanterns along the paths light your way home after the opera.

Garsington Opera at the Wormsley Estate: The 2014 season includes a revival of their successful Fidelio, Offenbach’s little-performed operetta Vert-Vert, and the popular Cunning Little Vixen, as well as concerts, recitals, and a cricket match. Their stunning new pavilion will be put to good use.

Opera Holland ParkThe Turn of the Screw, Norma, and Adriana Lecouvreur all have upcoming performances here. It’s the easiest to get to of the festivals—a short walk from the Tube, rather than a coach or taxi ride from a far-flung train station.

Grange Park OperaPeter Grimes and La traviata have closed, but performances of The Queen of Spades and Don Quichotte remain. The latter will be accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra, so this could be a good warm-up for the Proms.

Longborough Festival Opera: 2014 includes Tosca, The Barber of Seville, and Handel’s Rinaldo. The festival is also already gearing up for their 2015 Tristan und Isolde, so keep an eye out for further announcements about that project.

Iford Arts Opera Festival: This summer, La Rondine has closed, but The Daughter of the Regiment and The Return of Ulysses are still coming up. Iford is unusual among country house opera festivals in that their operas are presented in English rather than the original language.

Woodhouse Opera FestivalThe Magic Flute and a double-header of I pagliacci and Cavalleria rusticana will take place on Woodhouse’s tree-nestled outdoor stage this September. You’ve already missed their Baroque opera (Les indes galantes), which I sang in!

Woodhouse Opera's outdoor stage.
Woodhouse Opera’s outdoor stage.

These festivals can be pricey, but they provide an operatic experience very different from what you get in a typical opera house. Repertoire choices and stagings often make use of the beautiful outdoor settings, and picnic-ing mid-opera in fabulous gardens forms a part of the fun.

To make these festivals more accessible to young audiences, student deals are available at most, especially if you register several months before the summer season begins. However you can get tickets, do. Then pack your picnic basket, buy your train tickets, and prepare for a perfect afternoon.

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