Observations: Opera's battle with air traffic

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The Independent Culture

The rigours of country-house opera Garsington is like Glyndebourne must have been before it got so swish: with its history as the haunt of the Bloomsbury group, this Jacobean manor outside Oxford, with its lakes, statues and ornamental gardens, has a unique patina. Opera here was initially looked down on as a rich man's vanity project, but its policy of dusting off rarely-performed works has won it respect. But since the open-air stage is set in the courtyard, with the gardens acting as an extension, it takes a certain kind of performer to cope with the rigours, as soprano Orla Boylan notes: "No separate dressing rooms, we're all in these old bedrooms, it's really eccentric. Out on stage it can be cold. If it rains, we can get wet." What about the light aeroplanes which fly over? "I suspect people hire them to fly low. I once had one during a big aria. You just sing louder."

Martin Duncan, who was directing her in that aria, is back there this year with an intriguing curiosity: Martinu's comic opera Mirandolina, which is getting its 50-years-belated British premiere. "It's a direct transposition of a comedy by Goldoni," he says. "And as the plot is important, we're doing it in English. It's a delightful little piece, a sitcom really." Will it have a life after this production? "I certainly hope so – it's very audience-friendly, and would make a marvellous television opera." His production of Jonathan Dove's Pinocchio has been filmed and is now being replicated round the world: let's hope he pulls that trick this time.

"Mirandolina", Garsington, from June 18; office@garsingtonopera.org

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