Country house opera

So the English have this thing called “country house opera”, which involves traipsing out to an ancient English country house in tuxedos and evening gowns to see an opera and picnic in the formal gardens during the intermissions.  Seriously people, how is this the first time I’m hearing of this?

I went with a group of work friends on Friday out to West Horsley Place in Surrey (about an hour’s train ride south of London).  There’s been a manor house on the site since the Norman conquest in the 11th Century, and this house dates back to the 15th Century.  It’s actually a wood-framed Tudor-style house, and the brick facade was added later when that style went out of fashion.  It’s got 50 bedrooms and can boast of having hosted King Henry VIII for lunch.  Nowadays it’s looking a little worse for wear, but the foundation that runs it is raising money to fix it up again.

Grange Park Opera puts on a short opera festival each year.  They have just built a new opera-house on the grounds behind the house; it’s modeled on La Scala opera house in Milan and the chairs are from the Royal Opera House in London (from an era when people were clearly very thin and/or did not mind sitting with full body side contact).  We saw their production of Janacek’s Jenufa, which is a rather grim tale about poverty, shame, infanticide, and forgiveness.

The whole evening was really lovely!  Because of a late negotiation at work, we missed the first act, which meant we got to stroll around the gardens until the first intermission. The gardens really weren’t all that much to look at (overheard from one old lady: “Well you know it’s what it was like right after the war, DEVASTATED”) but there was romance in the dereliction and tons of potential — I really wanted to be put in charge of redoing them.

The intermission was very long — long enough for us to eat a fancy multi-course picnic before going back in for the second act.  It was so much fun to be all dressed up (and to see everyone else all dressed up) in such a relaxed and lovely setting, listening to some really well-performed opera.  I feel like I should make this a more regular part of the summer season…


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