I was pleased to read this morning that Garsington Opera is to be rescued by the Getty family, who have stepped in to give it a new home. The present owner of Garsington Manor, Rosalind Ingrams, had said that she no longer wanted to hold the month-long season at her Oxfordshire house, but now Mark Getty, son of Sir John Paul Getty, has offered his Wormsley Park estate near High Wycombe, from 2011, and the name Garsington Opera will be retained.
Garsington was one of the loveliest settings for English country house opera. The house itself, originally built in Tudor times, has an interesting history (though that is another story). The late Leonard Ingrams, the previous owner, and his wife Rosalind, founded the opera festival there in 1989, every year presenting a short summer season of first-class opera, often sung by up-and-coming young singers. Some of the operas were lesser-known revivals, others joyous productions of well-loved works.
In the true tradition of English country house opera, guests in evening dress and black tie would set up their tables and drink champagne in the beautiful gardens before listening to the operas, which were staged on the terrace of the house in front of a temporary (but quite comfortable and covered) stand, and always introduced by Leonard Ingrams himself. During the interval picnics would be consumed, as dusk fell over the yew hedges, statues and ornamental ponds. Afterwards one might be lucky enough to be invited into the house for a final drink.
Garsington Opera had its problems: the locals were not always supportive, objecting to the cars arriving and leaving, and the sound of the music. They even resorted to using fly-mowers to drown the singers, and once hired a light aircraft to buzz the house while the opera was going on. But on the whole, it was much-loved and the tickets were hugely sought-after and always sold out early.
I spent many happy evenings at Garsington, listening to wonderful music in a beautiful setting, and it is very good to know that it will not all be lost.