English Summer - Part 6

Overgrown English Garden at Garsington Opera at the Getty Estate, Wormsley (LEO Design)


My itinerary in England centered on attending the premiere of my husband's opera, Cosi Fan Tutte, at Garsington Opera.  His name is Robert Perdziola and he designed the scenery and costumes for this production.  The opera company began, modestly enough, in 1989 at the Oxford estate of Leonard Ingrams, a successful financier and opera lover.  His home was formerly owned by Lady Ottoline Morrell, a socialite and patron of the arts.  Here, just outside of Oxford, she would entertain and encourage Bloomsbury writers and artists. Decades later, Leonard founded the opera company and used his beautiful home as its backdrop—his stone veranda becoming the stage platform.  A nicely-tented seating area was erected each summer and the home's interior (living room, kitchen and bedrooms) became workspace for the crew and dressing areas for the singers.  Before long, every performance would sell-out, usually to loyal annual subscribers.  Tickets were very difficult to procure.

Like other English Summer opera festivals—Glyndebourne is the most famous—audiences would arrive in the late afternoon and carry their (ambitious) picnics into the field or into one of the gardens.  It was quite a sight to see elegantly-tuxedoed men (and women in party dresses) lounging in the soft English Summer sun.  Drinks and canapés would be consumed before the first act.  Come 5:30 or so—in full Summer sunlight—the audience would head to the "theatre" and the opera would commence.  After the first act, a 90 minute intermission gave the audience time to have their picnic dinners in the growing shade.  The second act would begin as the sun was setting; nothing accompanies the Mozart better than the glorious noise of birdsong.  By 9:30 or 10:00 pm, it was time to head for home.

When Leonard Ingrams died in 2005, the company made the move to the Getty Estate at Wormsley.  Situated between London and Oxford, it is the new (and wonderful) home of the Garsington Opera.  As in the past, audiences enjoy the late afternoon in the gardens and lawn surrounding the lake.  For those who prefer to order picnic baskets or sit-down dinners, there are numerous tents in the fields which one may reserve.  The owner of the estate, Mark Getty, has been a generous and supportive host—allowing the opera's patrons to spend a magical afternoon and evening in his special piece of heaven.

Shown above is one of the gardens, planted amongst the small outbuildings.  This patch is created in the classic "overgrown English" style.  It abuts the theatre and can be seen from the seating.  In the last production Bob designed here, The Marriage of Figaro, one scene incorporated this adjacent garden into the stage action.  The character Cherubino, an amorous and love-struck youth, sneaks into the Countess's chambers, attempting to woo the older woman.  When the Count, her wrathful husband, turns-up, Cherubino jumps out of the window, escaping through this very garden, zig-zagging as he's chased by an angry (and drunken) gardener.


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