Alice at the Opera

By Keith Clarke

It sounds like something from Alice in Wonderland. You build an opera house. Being a dream, it only takes a month. You put on 21 performances. Then you knock it all down again.

That is the realty for Garsington Opera in its new home. It was always a bit mad. Founder Leonard Ingrams set the thing up in his back garden while his wife was looking the other way. She forgave him, but having failed to do a charm offensive with the neighbors, he ran into all kinds of trouble, culminating in a grand evening of protest when the opera was interrupted by a synchronized hedge trimming event, an extra pizzazz being added by a local nutcase strafing the opera in a Tiger Moth plane.

When Ingrams died, tragically, at the wheel of his car on a journey back from Glyndebourne, his widow bravely continued to host the opera for a while, but made it clear that in time she would like her garden back.

One of the strange things about England is that while extreme poverty is not hard to find in the inner cities, out in the countryside there are so many opulent estates big enough to host an opera festival that Garsington spent quite some time whittling down a shortlist. When the roulette wheel stopped turning, the ball landed on Wormsley, a 2,500-acre traditional English country estate owned by the Getty family.

I went for a look round on Monday, and it is one of those perfect stretches of countryside where your eye stretches so far across the estate that it seems there can’t be much more of England beyond the horizon.

The estate generally only opens its gates to the public for cricket matches, but the current Getty – Mark – is keen to make it a bit more arty, so an opera company is a good fit. But the Gettys did not get where they are without driving a hard bargain so Garsington will be paying a healthy rent for use of the grounds. Then there is the cost of the purpose-built Opera Pavilion, which will take 12-15 workers about four weeks to construct and deconstruct.

With just 600 seats to sell, it doesn’t take too long with a calculator to see why Garsington is so pleased to welcome aboard global investment firm Jefferies as its first ever season sponsor.

The season runs June 2 – July 5, with The Magic Flute, Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia, and Vivaldi’s La verità in cimento.

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