Garsington’s 2018 season is perhaps the most enticing of all the Summer opera offerings: there are four new productions including a world premiere, and the programme is finely balanced in terms of repertoire and casting. Add to that the most idyllic of settings, with the new venture of recitals in the lovely walled garden, and you have a recipe for the perfect experience.
The opening production is Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, with a cast which promises much: Louise Alder, winner of the Audience Prize at the 2017 Cardiff ‘Singer of the World’ and with the memory of her superb Ilia in Garsington’s Idomeneo fresh in our minds, makes her role debut as Pamina. That alone would be sufficient temptation, but her Tamino is Benjamin Hulett, well known to Glyndebourne audiences as well as Proms goers – the pair were a much-praised Marzelline and Jaquino in last year’s Fidelio. Christian Curnyn, who conducted The Return of Ulysses for the ROH at the Roundhouse, is in charge of the Garsington Opera Orchestra; both he and director / designer Netia Jones will be making their house debuts.
Die Zauberflöte will also be performed by the Garsington Opera Alvarez Young Artists, which has already seen many of its students go on to join the main house. This is part of the house’s programme of learning and participation, with the audience for this performance made up of local residents and students from local schools, all of whom will have taken part in workshops aimed at kindling their enthusiasm for opera. Alongside these events, Garsington backs up its declared passion for widening access to opera for younger audiences with its excellent ‘GO<35’ scheme, which offers subsidized tickets, priority booking and pre-performance parties.
Next up is a real treat – in collaboration with Santa Fe Opera, a chance to see Richard Strauss’ Capriccio, with an outstanding cast including Miah Persson in her role debut as the Countess, William Dazeley as the Count and Andrew Shore as La Roche. Gavan Ring is Olivier, and Sam Furness (Baron Lummer in Intermezzo) is Flamand. Tim Albery, whose memorable 2016 Idomeneo was glowingly reviewed, directs, and Douglas Boyd conducts.
Verdi’s Falstaff is equally well cast, with Henry Waddington in the title role; those who saw the Glyndebourne Tour version of Saul are unlikely to have forgotten his superb assumption of that part. Mary Dunleavy, who sang Christine in the 2015 Intermezzo, sings Alice Ford, Victoria Simmonds is Meg Page, and Yvonne Howard is Mistress Quickly. Bruno Ravella, who scored such a hit with Intermezzo, returns to direct, and Richard Farnes (former Music Director of Opera North) conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra.
The season finale is Garsington’s first ever Festival World Premiere, The Skating Rink, written by the British composer David Sawer and with a libretto by Rory Mullarkey. The work is based on a novel by the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño, and concerns a young skating champion whose powerful admirer is driven to pilfer funds to build her an ice rink – a murder on the ice becomes the centre of this story of passion and corruption. The superb baritone Neal Davies sings the admirer, whilst Lauren Zolezzi sings the heroine, and the strong cast includes Susan Bickley, Alan Oke and Louise Winter.
The Garsington experience is one of the highlights of Summer: you arrive from about 3:30pm, with time to explore the bucolic grounds or the Walled Garden, reached by vintage bus, and you can have an Afternoon Tea overlooking the almost absurdly perfect cricket ground. In the long dinner interval, picnics by the lake or in the gardens are a popular option, or you can dine in the marquee or have your picnic in one of the tents or on the upper terrace, with superb views encompassing herds of deer and plump, undulating hills. There’s a minibus service to take you to High Wycombe station, around half an hour from London, so you can happily enjoy some champagne with your picnic. Public booking opens on Tuesday 20 March, and the season begins on 31 May with Die Zauberflöte and closes on 16 July with the final performance of The Skating Rink.