[Dixielandjazz] Dixieland in the Garden
barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Jul 31 18:47:08 PDT 2004
List mates & Pat Ladd
Say, here's an idea for Pat Ladd. Hey Pat, how about some Dixieland
concerts in the gardens at your country place? :-) VBG. Especially since
"fantasy" seems to be the current rage? Perhaps a weekend event harking
back to the days of F Scott Fitzgerald? Or 1920/30 English society's
love of jazz?
Or even Shakespeare? "If Music Be The Food Of Love, Play On." (Twelfth
August 1, 2004 - NY Times
'Götterdämmerung' in the Garden
By MICHAEL WHITE
IN Britain, these days, opera in the garden is all the rage. If you own
a country house with grounds, you turn everything upside down in July
and August to stage a home-grown "Götterdämmerung" (or for the
fainter-hearted, "Barber of Seville"). And patrons, ideally in evening
dress, picnic grandly on your lawns during intermissions.
The phenomenon feeds on fantasy. Audience members pretend they're in
Italy or someplace warm, willfully ignoring the dampness and downpours
of an English summer as they pick the meat from their lobster thermidor
with shivering hands. And the proprietors imagine they've traveled back
in time, as 18th-century princelings with private courts and orchestras
at their disposal, while they reinvent the Arcadian dream. Not that they
readily admit it.
"Dear me, no," says Leonard Ingrams, the engagingly eccentric banker who
owns Garsington Manor, near Oxford. Once famous as a country escape for
the Bloomsbury set, Garsington is now one of the most celebrated summer
opera haunts in the country. But Mr. Ingrams insists he has no illusions
about recreating an 18th-century court.
"My neighbors might have something to say about that," he says. "And it
wouldn't be very practical. The four-week season we run here turns over
a modest profit that requires careful management. This is no business
But there must be some good reason for the owners to want to do it, for
they also have to submit to invasion of their privacy, governmental
regulations and the daily traumas inevitable to any artistic enterprise.
For some, like Marilyn Abbot, the exuberant chatelaine of West Green
House in Hampshire, opera complements the beauty of gardens that are
open to the public anyway. "This is a fine 18th-century estate," she
says, "and to stage Mozart here adds an appropriate dimension to the
experience of it all."
For John Hignett, who owns the idyllic Iford Manor, near Bath, and
stages operas in a Renaissance cloister at the bottom of his gardens,
it's all part of "a spirit of place which I feel profoundly and believe
it's my responsibility as a custodian to cultivate," he says.
But other owners seem motivated simply by a passion for music, which
they can afford to indulge. Monika Saunders, whose garden, Woodhouse
Copse in Surrey, presents opera on a minute but charming scale, has
virtually no staff support. But music is the driving force in her life,
she says, "so I give all I have to make it happen."
Sometimes the drive is focused toward specific repertory. Garsington
acquired critical credibility (and some relief from the complaint that,
like all country-house opera, it was nothing more than a diversion for
the rich) by staging the British premieres of forgotten Haydn operas and
taking up lesser-known works by Rossini and Richard Strauss. At
Longborough, an estate in the Cotswolds, Martin Graham puts on reduced
"Ring" cycles, with the soaring ambition, he says, that one day he will
do them complete "and the world will talk about the Longborough Ring in
the way it talks about Bayreuth."
But almost every country opera entrepreneur is guided by a strong sense
of what will work on his or her particular patch.
"I do exercise a sort of personal censorship about the kind of work we
stage here," says Mr. Hignett of Iford Manor. "And although this sounds
a bit mad, it often comes down to how people die in a piece. I think of
Iford as a place with positive energies, and frankly, I'd rather not
have operas where anyone dies at all. But as that would be limiting, I
have a sort of rule that says death by natural causes is O.K. we do
`Bohème' but not death by violence. We did `Tosca' once, but it felt
wrong, so we won't go there again."
Country opera standards vary hugely, from the sophisticated and
remarkable to the simple and poor. Some sites offer permanent
bricks-and-mortar theaters. Some have high-tech temporary structures.
And some merely erect a stage against the house and hope that it doesn't
About the only thing they share is a veneration for the mother of all
country opera ventures, Glyndebourne. Long established and stately, it
is the institution from which all others take their cue.
A Jacobean-cum-Victorian mansion with a theater joined umbilically to
one side, Glyndebourne nestles in the folds of gentle Sussex pastureland
spotted with bleating sheep and strangely clean cows: a paradigm of
picture-book England. It is the ancestral seat of the Christie family,
one of whom, John Christie, married a soprano in 1930 and resolved to
build her an opera house in the garden.
With time, Glyndebourne became a fixture on the British social scene.
Special trains conveyed the audience from London in their evening
dresses and tiaras. The intermission picnics were a gift to news
photographers. And more seriously, artistic standards steadily improved,
so that Glyndebourne now ranks among the finest opera theaters in the world.
"We really don't think of ourselves as country-house opera anymore,"
says David Pickard, Glyndebourne's general director. "O.K., there's
still the champagne-drinking audience, but it's peripheral to what we're
about. We've lost the old sense of being an exquisite cottage industry.
We're not so exclusive."
But the abandonment of the cottage-industry aspect was not welcomed by
all Glyndebourne patrons, many of whom enjoyed the exclusiveness. So
they have decamped for Garsington, which, they say, is the way
Glyndebourne used to be: more intimate; less slick; and with 500 seats
and a 20-evening season the sort of event at which audience members
can congratulate themselves on the mere achievement of being there.
A performance night feels like a private party; and Mr. Ingrams's
proprietorship is decidedly hands-on. After a day of shifting money in
international banking markets, he will happily tune harpsichords, check
lavatories, deal with singers' temper tantrums and deliver a standard
preperformance homily to the audience on the importance of not driving
through the village on the way home.
The homily is a relic of problems he encountered with his neighbors from
the moment Garsington began its opera seasons, 15 years ago. When
villagers discovered they were going to have opera on their doorstep
with rehearsals, noise and a nightly motorcade of visitors they took
action, through the courts and then (more practically) through sabotage.
In one extraordinary attack, organized like a wartime mission,
Garsington's opening night was overwhelmed by the noise of car alarms,
hedge trimmers and light aircraft buzzing the stage. The show was saved
only by cease-fire negotiations at intermission.
Zoning restrictions will keep Mr. Ingrams from ever having a permanent
theater. The most he can do is construct a temporary auditorium of wood
and canvas. And although it is technologically up to date, with a full
orchestra pit, heat and surprisingly good acoustics, it has no backstage
At Longborough, by comparison, Mr. Graham throws up buildings with a
vengeance. He has turned a pastoral site into a sort of toy-town opera
village, with pavilions and towers surrounding the actual theater. It
helps that he is a property developer driven, he says, by two
obsessions: "I love Wagner, and I love to build. Put those together and
you get an opera house."
The Longborough opera house is actually a cow barn, surreally converted
with a mock-Palladian foyer, chandeliers and red plush seats that once
belonged to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
Yet however much creativity may go into the construction of
country-house operas, it doesn't always surface in the shows themselves.
The larger presenters generate their own productions, but the smaller
ones bring in touring packages.
Iford buys the services of Opera Project: one of the best small-scale
touring companies in Britain, with an ingenious ability to fit
substantial-looking productions of "Falstaff," "Le Nozze di Figaro" and
"La Bohème" into tiny spaces like the Iford Cloisters. Opera Project
also has a knack for finding excellent young singers. And this has been
a great spinoff from the country opera boom: an uncoordinated but useful
platform for emerging talent, which functions like a nationwide academy,
at arm's length from the glare of London.
Musical culture in Britain has historically homed in on London, without
the decentralized network of provincial opera houses to be found in
Germany and other European countries. So country opera represents a sort
of catching up and, it is tempting to add, an opening out except that
critics of its social exclusivity would dismiss the suggestion as
nonsense. If opera is to have a future, they would say, it must rid
itself of the champagne-and-candelabra image that country opera encourages.
They may be right. The black-tie picnics on the lawns at Glyndebourne
are anachronistic, not to say impractical and, usually, uncomfortable.
But George Christie, who inherited the enterprise in 1956 and has just
handed it on to his son Gus, in true dynastic succession, doesn't think
"There's never been a rule about black-tie here," Sir George says, "but
it's customary because it's what people appear to want. And if people
want to dress up and make their operagoing an event, is that so awful?"
Michael White is a columnist for BBC Music Magazine and writes for The
Sunday Telegraph in London.
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