Summer of song

In the warmer months, some of the country’s finest houses and gardens host dazzling opera performances

Every year, between May and August, the sound of birdsong blends with the melodies of love-torn tragedy as the country house opera season gets underway. A growing number of historic venues now host their own special festivals of classical music, in what has become a much-loved highlight of the summer cultural calendar.

“The graciousness of civilisation here surely touches a peak where the arts of music, architecture and gardening combine for the delight of man,” wrote Vita Sackville- West of Glyndebourne in 1953.

Glyndebourne Opera

Set in the rolling South Downs, Britain’s original summer opera venue is a byword for sophistication, its reputation for musical excellence rivalling the world’s great opera houses. “We’re well known for showcasing exciting, up-and-coming talent, so you’re likely to see the stars of the future here for the very first time,” says Alexandra Coghlan, Glyndebourne’s Opera Content Consultant.

A place of many traditions, including elegant dress code and elaborate champagne picnics, Glyndebourne’s summer season of six operas is widely recognised for its creative boldness, with this year’s programme featuring a Die Zauber öte with puppetry and a gravity-defying Rusalka set undersea.

“Glyndebourne takes a playful approach to the art form, with an added touch of anarchy and eccentricity,” says Coghlan. “At the same time, we’re always striving to fulfil John Christie’s founding motto: ‘not the best that we can do, but the best that can be done anywhere’.”

Performance by Ilford Arts

While Glyndebourne boasts a grand theatre seating 1,200 and an expansive 3-month festival programme, at Belcombe Court, opera can be enjoyed on a rather more intimate scale. Set in a valley outside the Roman town of Bradford on Avon, this Grade I-listed property was built in the early 1700s by John Wood the Elder, the esteemed architect who imagined some of Bath’s most majestic buildings. Rarely open to the public, this year it welcomes internationally renowned opera company Iford Arts and their production of Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore, performed in the round under a geodesic dome which seats just over 200, for a run of four nights only.

“It will show you don’t need to be in one of the big cities or the bigger venues to listen to incredible music,”says Paul Weiland, the acclaimed lm & TV director, and Belcombe’s current owner. “It can be experienced right here, in the heart of Southwest England.”

Discover more opera festival in Britain by reading the full article, see Vol 87 Issue 3 of BRITAIN magazine on sale here