In England, it has been truly observed, summer’s lease hath all too short a date, and we make the most of what there is of it on our damp little island. From May to September there’s a rich musical life outside London, although the capital sees the BBC Proms, which likes to call itself the greatest music festival on earth.
Many of the riches are operatic, beginning with Glyndebourne. Now in its ninth decade, its romantic origin inspired David Hare’s new play The Moderate Soprano, with its story of how the gruff music-loving squire John Christie built a small opera house beside his country house in Sussex as a love-offering for his young bride, the soprano Audrey Mildmay. Their son George was present at the first night of Glyndebourne opera in 1934 literally in utero, as Audrey was pregnant while singing Susanna in Figaro, and the romantic tradition has been continued by George’s son Gus Christie: his wife Danielle de Niese sings Rosina in a new production of Rossini’s Barbiere di Siviglia, which opens on May 22 and is given at the Proms on July 25.
When John Christie said that he wanted to perform Wagner, it seemed beyond eccentric, but after the fine new Glyndebourne opera house opened twenty-two years ago that became feasible at last. After Tristan und Isolde came Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, which is revived with Gerald Finley again as Hans Sachs (May 21). Indeed Wagner in June is bustin’ out all over, and through the summer. Grange Park Opera in Hampshire has a somewhat promiscuous as well as ambitious season, with a musical, Oliver!, along with Don Carlo, Fanciulla, and Tristan in a concert performance with Anja Kampe as Isolde (July 13).
Not all “country house opera” has been as successful as Glyndebourne, but Garsington Opera at Wormsley has been one of the happier emulators. As it name says, it began life at Garsington Manor near Oxford, where Lady Ottoline Morrell once held court for Bertrand Russell, D.H. Lawrence and sundry Bloomsberries, but it was obliged to move some years ago, and found a home at Wormsley, the lavish Buckinghamshire estate of the Getty family, rich Anglophile Americans. Apart from an unusually beautiful cricket ground (sign of truly advanced Anglophilia), Wormsley now boasts an opera pavilion, where this summer’s offerings include Eugene Onegin (June 3), L’italiana in Algeri and Idomeneo.
There’s another Tristan (from June 9) at the much troubled English National Opera. It’s conducted by Edward Gardner, who has recently departed as ENO’s music director, for which few will blame him. More surprising still has been the ambition—and success—of little Longborough in the depths of Gloucestershire, which has mounted an excellent complete Ring cycle using miniature orchestral forces, and now gives Tannhäuser with John Treleaven and Neal Cooper alternating in the title role (June 9).
But the Wagnerian event of the year in England, and possibly anywhere, is the whole of Der Ring des Nibelungen given at last by Opera North after the component pieces were assembled one by one. This ingenious semi-staged performance has a fine cast, brilliantly conducted by Richard Farnes. The first of the complete cycles will be given from April 23 in Leeds, where the company is based, before it tours and reaches London on June 28. When Farnes and Opera North gave Die Walküre, Rupert Christiansen of the Daily Telegraph wrote with little exaggeration,“You’d be lucky to hear as good at Bayreuth.”
For a lighter, or at least non-Wagnerian, introduction to the summer, the International Bath Music Festival opens on May 20. Yehudi Menuhin was once director of the Bath Festival, and in this, his centenary year, it’s returning to a repertory he would have relished, with highlights from Richard Goode playing the last three Schubert piano sonatas to Philip Higham playing the Bach cello suites.