The news that Garsington Opera's tenure at their eponymous manor will end in 2010 means their remaining performances will be treasurable, since this venue has unique charm. But it's not the only reason people go: the fare is notably adventurous, with this year's opener – the company's first foray into the Baroque – being a case in point. Written in 1717 to mark the end of the Venetian carnival season, Vivaldi's L'incoronazione di Dario was performed "with magnificence" at the Teatro S Angelo, with very few revivals since.
David Freeman – who has seized the chance to direct this tale about a disputed royal succession in the magnificence of Garsington – is under no illusions about its quality. "Some of it's terrific, but it's not a perfect work. In terms of storytelling, it's like a Shakespearean comedy where heroic figures get caught in very silly situations that don't add up, so we've had to bend it to make sense – cutting and reordering the arias. It may be technically opera seria, but it's really not serious at all – if you didn't make it funny, you'd be doing it a disservice. This is a comedy for serious people."
Doing it in Garsington, he says, is like doing a show at Shakespeare's Globe, in terms of the available facilities. "I've found with previous productions in Garsington that if you have a big, heavy set, you can't help feeling the garden surrounding it is much more beautiful and seductive, so at first we thought of bringing the garden on stage. But finally we decided to extend the house."
He's keeping the action in Persia, where Vivaldi intended it, but is trading heavily on the usefulness of Shah Reza Pahlavi's East-West allegiances in the Fifties. "If you look at the old photos of him and Queen Soraya, you realise that they based their idea of royalty on the British royal family. One minute the Shah could be extolling 2,500 years of the Peacock Throne, the next looking like somebody who would be perfectly happy in Buckingham Palace. That gives you a lot of possibilities."
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