Garsington Opera's final show in the gardens of the Oxfordshire manor, which has been its home for the last 21 years, will forever glow in the memory: no other production of Britten's masterpiece that I have seen – not even Peter Hall's much-loved one for Glyndebourne – could rival this show's visionary sure-footedness.
It certainly helped that its conductor, Steuart Bedford, had assisted the composer with his own recording of the richly jewelled score, because here every nuance was lovingly projected. And it was a directorial master-stroke by Daniel Slater and his designer Francis O'Connor to strew the stage with a picturesque jumble of ornate beds, mirrors, and carpets, as though Miss Havisham's home had been turned inside out for the occasion: this was the end of the rainbow, not only for Garsington Opera, but for human life itself.
The fairies were little boys with dirty faces in Second World War uniforms too big for them, while the pairs of lovers came out of the Lower Fifth at Greyfriars; the mechanicals were the sort you'd have found below stairs in any 1940s stately home. Puck was a crabby general factotum, while Oberon and Tytania – James Laing and the remarkable Rebecca Bottone – struck petulant attitudes in mauve greatcoats. They wrangled over their tightly swaddled infant, but were clearly in love. The scenes with the mechanicals – Neal Davies a winningly comic Bottom, Pascal Charbonneau irresistible as Flute – had charming spontaneity; Andrew Staples and George von Bergen swore alternating love and vengeance with Anna Stephany and Katherine Manley, in a crackling sequence of scenes. There wasn't a weak link in this wonderful ensemble. Tenderness and honesty were the leitmotivs of this show, with no chasing of effects for their own sake. Yet the final coup de theatre took the breath away, with its bold simplicity.
To 2 July (01865 361636; Garsingtonopera.org)