Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. Country House Opera

Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. Country House Opera

Article excerpt

I stole a blanket last night. Rather a nice one, in fact. I feel bad about it, of course, but guilt is less inconvenient than pneumonia; and after trying to blow-dry my waterlogged dinner jacket with the winds howling through Garsington Opera's 'airy' pavilion, it seemed like pneumonia or the blanket were the options.

Forgive the melodramatic, self-justificatory tone. That, too, has its roots in the evening's diversions, which included a performance of Intermezzo, Richard Strauss's melodramatic and self-justificatory autobiographical account of a marital misunderstanding. It's an odd piece, lovely in some ways, trite and misogynistic in others.

Some decades ago, after a May Day ball in Oxford, I learned that poncing around wet and muddy fields in evening dress is misguided; a category error, even. I vowed not to do it again. But now my early summer is occupied with little else than poncing around wet fields in evening wear. Garsington, Glynde-bourne, Grange Park -- and that's just the home counties. I can now find challenges for my dry-cleaner much further afield, in Longborough, Iford or Bampton.

Country house opera suits opera critics because the levels of invention and talent are commonly very high, despite meagre resources. It also suits the British public, who, though they remain uncomfortable around opera, certainly feel at home with boozy picnics in questionable weather.

But you needn't stay in Britain for summertime opera. You may even travel to countries where they have a summer. Coincidentally, some of those countries are entirely comfortable with the idea of opera, so there's no need for picnics. …

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