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Commentary

Garsington Opera Pavilion at night [Photo by Mike Hoban]
03 Jun 2014

Garsington Opera’s 25th anniversary unites its past with its future

Garsington Opera celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Garsington Opera’s 25th anniversary unites its past with its future

A commentary by Anne Ozorio

Above: Garsington Opera Pavilion at night [Photo © Mike Hoban]

 

The iconic country house festival opera was founded by Leonard Ingrams in his home at Garsington Manor in Oxfordshire. In 2011, Mark Getty welcomed the festival to his estate at Wormsley Park in the Chiltern Hills, a larger and even more spectacular setting. This has allowed Garsington Opera to develop its potential even further. With its award-winning Pavilion and high artistic values, Garsington fills a unique niche in the British opera world.

“Things are going well,” says Douglas Boyd, Music Director, of the 2014 season. “It’s a question of balance,” he adds. Beethoven’s Fidelio sets out high ideals, Offenbach’s Vert-Vert provides humour Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen mixes wit with warmth. Fidelio has special significance for Boyd, who conducted it in his first season as Guest Conductor, in 2009. #8220;Beethoven’s language means a lot to me,” he says, “and it’s so refreshing working with the director, John Cox. He has great craftsmanship, and cares about how the text is described in the music. Don Pizzaro gets pleasure from torturing Florestan, singing 'Triomphe, Triomphe' right into his ear, and only tries to kill him when he realizes that Don Fernando is on his way.”

Garsington Opera’s formidable reputation was built on pioneering on rarely heard operas. It’s releasing a deluxe three-CD recording through Avie Records of Rossini’s Maometto Secondo. It’s the first commercially available recording of a new edition of the “Naples” version with its dramatic finale. Rossini specialist David Parry conducted the first UK performance last year. This year’s rarity is Jules Offenbach’s Vert-Vert, a hilarious comedy about a talking parrot. “When I’ve gone into rehearsals,” says Boyd, “everyone seems to be rolling around laughing. It’s going to be incredibly good fun.”

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen will be directed by Daniel Slater, so it will be edgy, exploring the crossover between animal and human behaviour. “Not all cuddly, fluffy little foxes,” grins Boyd, “the fly will have fly swatters for wings.”

Many performances in this year’s season are sold out (though it’s always worth trying for returns) but there are other thrilling new ventures to come. In July Garsington will commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, with “Peace in Our Time”?, a weekend of events engaging with the issues of war and idealism. Ironically, this connects Garsington Opera at Wormsley with its first home, Garsington Manor. ;"Before Leonard Ingrams bought it", says Boyd, "Garsington Manor belonged at one time to Lady Ottoline Morell." She was an influential patron, who created a milieu where free-thinking artists could meet. She was a pacifist at a time when such ideas were radical. “So Garsington Manor was a hive of anti-war ntiment”, says Boyd. “Siegfried Sassoon spent part of his convalescence from the Somme at Garsington Manor.”

The spirit of Beethoven inspired plans for the whole weekend. He is a composer whose music addresses things like war, totalitarianism, self-sacrifice, justice and love.” Garsington Opera’s Peace in Our Time ? commemoration will include a concert performance of Fidelio, and Beethoven’s Symphony no 9, with its message of brotherhood and hope. Steven Isserlis will play Beethoven sonatas. Backstage facilities have been considerably improved,to accomodate a larger orchestra. Garsington’s own orchestra will continue its expertise in specialist repertoire, but a new partnership with the Philharmonia Orchestra, London, from 2017 will mean larger-scale works can be produced. Garsington Opera’s Peace in Our Time ? will include Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw, narrated by Samuel West. This will be the first time a large orchestra has performed on this stage.

There will be a symposium featuring such authors as James Naughtie, Oxford historian Professor Margaret Macmillan, Jeremy Paxman and Miranda Carter, followed by masterclasses and readings. Some patrons may be able to visit the Getty Library, which houses treasures such as the Bible Mary Queen of Scots carried when she was executed, and a first edition printed by Caxton of The Canterbury Tales. There will also be cricket. “There’s a photograph of Sassoon in cricket whites in the Garsington Opera programme book,” Boyd adds.

Ironically, the greatest coup might be two previously unpublished poems, written by Siegfried Sassoon, which a friend of John Cox, who is directing Fidelio, found in an auction. “One of these poems,” says Boyd, “is called Atrocities, and the other is an ode to Beethoven. What an incredible coincidence! Imagine, an unknown poem by Sassoon about Beethoven being heard first at Garsington Opera!”

Details of Garsington Opera at Wormsley’s next two seasons have also been announced. In 2015, Mozart’s Così fan tutte will be conducted by Douglas Boyd and directed by John Fulljames, Britten’s Death in Venice will be conducted by Steuart Bedford, who conducted the world premiere in Britten’s presence in 1973. The director will be Paul Curran. The season will conclude with Strauss’s Intermezzo, conducted by Jac van Steen, and directed by Bruno Ravella. In 2016, Douglas Boyd will conduct a new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin directed by Sir Michael Boyd. David Parry will conduct Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri directed by William Tuckett, and Tobias Ringborg will conduct Mozart’s Idomeneo with Tim Albery as director.

Anne Ozorio

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