Garsington: A New Home for English Opera

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Robbie Jack / Corbis

Chorus of approval Jessica Pratt starred as Armida in Garsington's production of the Rossini opera last June

The bucolic English countryside may seem a strange setting for the consumptive heroines and dashing heroes of classical opera, but country-house opera is a long-established feature of the summer social calendar.

The Glyndebourne estate, about 100 km south of London, hosts the most famous summer opera festival. But ever since it enlarged its auditorium in 1994, the glitterati have grumbled that it has lost its exclusivity. There were even reports last year of men arriving in suits — shock! horror! — instead of tuxedos.

Enter Garsington Opera, which runs from June 2 to July 5. This year, it moves from its old home near Oxford to the 1,000-hectare Wormsley Estate in the Chiltern Hills, around an hour's drive from London. Its new $5 million pavilion seats only 600, which is half the number at its larger rival. At its former address, it was already attracting, as the Times of London put it, "even grander picnic hampers and opera connoisseurs than Glyndebourne."

Allowing for England's fickle weather, the roof of Garsington's new pavilion is equipped with a mesh layer that reduces rain noise by up to 75%. Seats look out past the stage onto rolling, sheep-dotted grounds, so patrons can take in both the silent music of the Wordsworthian countryside and the swelling romanticism of some of opera's finest arias. It promises to be a marvelous outing; just don't forget your tuxedo.

Tickets range from $150 to $245. See

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