[Dixielandjazz] Dixieland in the Garden

Steve Barbone 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 
Night opener)


August 1, 2004 - NY Times

    'Götterdämmerung' in the Garden



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 
for fantasists."

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 
or flies.

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 
they're outmoded.

"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.

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list