When landowner John Christie built a small opera house for his professional soprano wife in the rolling Sussex Downs, he unwittingly founded Country House Opera. The Glyndebourne Festival started there in 1934 with two Mozart operas, and since then its popularity has inexorably grown. Today, Glyndebourne epitomises the English summertime.
Several other venues have followed Glyndebourne’s example and Garsington, now celebrating its 30th anniversary, has also established a sterling reputation for the world-class standard of its opera festival. Founded in 1989 by the owner of Garsington Manor, an estate near Oxford where the Bloomsbury Group often congregated during the 1920s, the Festival moved in 2011 to a purpose-built theatre at nearby Wormsley Park, the home of Mark Getty in Buckinghamshire.
The tour begins at Garsington with Mitridate. Mozart was only 14 when he wrote his first opera seria, combining glorious melody, dazzling vocal fireworks and exquisitely tender melancholy.
Continue to Glyndebourne for this year’s must-see new production, Poulenc’s tragic and powerful Dialogues des Carmélites. It tells the story of a Carmelite convent whose nuns are condemned to death during the French Revolution. A modern masterpiece, it contrasts violent revolution with moments of startling simplicity and beauty.
One of the best loved of all Donizetti’s operas, L’elisir d’amore combines comedy and romance with the sweetest of melodies, including Nemorino’s captivating aria ‘Una furtive lagrima’. Updating the action to the 1940s, Annabel Arden’s production celebrates the opera’s original joyful, colourful spirit, painting an affectionate picture of an Italy on the brink of political change.
Accompanied by musicologist Dr John Allison, there are daily talks on all three operas.
Henley-on-Thames, Garsington. The coach leaves Henley-on-Thames railway station at 2.10pm for the short drive to the hotel. After a talk at the hotel leave in the afternoon for Garsington. Mitridate (Mozart): Tim Albery (director), Clemens Schuldt (conductor), Robert Murray (Mitridate), Elizabeth Watts (Aspasia), Mary Bevan (Sifare), Tim Mead (Farnace), Jennifer France (Ismene), Colin Judson (Arbate), Florian Panzieri (Marzio), The English Concert. The performance begins at 6.20pm. Dinner is served during the long interval. Overnight in Henley-on-Thames.
Henley-on-Thames, Cliveden, Horsted, Glyndebourne. By coach from Henley-on-Thames to Cliveden. Cliveden’s magnificent formal gardens and woods beside the Thames have been admired for centuries. In the afternoon, attend a talk and drive to Glyndebourne. Dialogues des Carmélites (Poulenc): Barrie Kosky (director), Danielle de Niese (Blanche de la Force), Doris Soffel (Madame de Croissy, Prioress), Golda Schultz (Madame Lidoine, new Prioress), Karen Cargill (Mère Marie), Fiona Kimm (Mère Jeanne), Florie Valiquette (Soeur Constance), Paul Gay (Marquis de la Force), Cyrille Dubois (Chevalier de la Force), Vincent Ordonneau (Father Confessor), London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Glyndebourne Chorus. The performance begins at 5.00pm. A picnic dinner is served during the long interval. First of two nights in Horsted.
Horsted, Charleston, Glyndebourne. A morning excursion to Charleston Farmhouse, the country residence of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, with almost every surface decorated by them. A lecture in the afternoon is followed by L’elisir d’amore (Donizetti): Annabel Arden (director), Enrique Mazzola (conductor), Olga Kulchynska (Adina), Liparit Avetisyan (Nemorino), Biagio Pizzuti (Belcore), Mikheil Kiria (Dr Dulcamara), Mané Galoyan (Giannetta), London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Glyndebourne Chorus. The performance begins at 4.00pm. Dinner is served in the long interval. Second and final night in Horsted.
Leave when you wish. Taxis to Lewes railway station are provided.
Dr John Allison
Editor of Opera magazine and music critic. He was born in South Africa and completed his PhD degree while playing the piano and working as assistant organist at Cape Town cathedral. Since moving to London in 1989 he has written for publications around the world, authored two books and served on the juries of many international competitions. He co-founded the International Opera Awards in 2013. He reviews for the Daily Telegraph and has previously held positions as music critic on The Sunday Telegraph and The Times.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £2,860. Single occupancy: £3,110.
Three opera tickets costing c.£710; private air-conditioned coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts, all three dinners (including one picnic dinner) with wine, water and coffee; tips for restaurant staff and drivers; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Hotel du Vin, Henley-on-Thames: comfortable hotel, well-positioned beside the Thames with excellent views (4-star). Horsted Place, Little Horsted: A fine country house hotel in a Victorian Gothic revival mansion offering very good service. (4-star). Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.
The tour would be a struggle for anyone whose walking is impaired. There is a short walk from the coach park to the opera house. Average distance by coach per day:
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Altogether a wonderful few days with a real feast of fantastic music.
Martin Randall Travel certainly hit the button as far as I'm concerned with this tour. I found it magical, phenomenal, outstanding - I've run out of superlatives!