Prepare to be charmed. Lost in the bucolic grandeur of the Wormsley estate you'll find yourself entertained, feasted (culturally and, if you've remembered your picnic, literally), diverted by finery, surprised by an abundance of deer, and possibly rained on just a little bit.
Garsington Opera at Wormsley is designed to be a special experience. Guests are invited to explore the stunning grounds from 3.30pm before the performance begins at 5.25pm, and an interval over an hour long allows plenty of time to take advantage of a number of lavish dining options (or to enjoy your own sandwiches and warm prosecco while the sun sets over the lake). Evening dress is recommended. At the close of the night's entertainment, the path back to the car park is picked out by a line of lanterns in the gloaming. It's gorgeous, very well realised, just the right level of relaxed formality, and a delightful chance to see the estate.
A highlight of the season, John Cox's acclaimed Le Nozze di Figaro, conducted by Garsington Opera's Artistic Director, Douglas Boyd, is a wonderful production. Over the course of a single eventful day, Figaro and Susanna try desperately to make it to the altar while beset by a number of unfortunate obstacles, not least their master Count Almaviva's attempts to exercise his droit de seigneur over Susanna. The show is silly, wise, passionate, affecting and genuinely funny, Robert Perdziola's sets are simple in structure but impressively attentive to detail, and the orchestra are tight and masterfully led. Individual performances range from good to great and the ensemble singing is excellent.
The friendship and understanding between Susanna and Countess Almaviva takes centre stage, and their collaboration both artistically - with their contrasting vocal styles - and in terms of plot, is very effective. In vocal performance (on this occasion at least), as in the story itself, the women outshine the men. With her impish smile and crystal-bright soprano, Jennifer France sparkles as Susanna, while Kirsten MacKinnon's rich, full tones bring an extraordinary beauty and pathos to the role of the Countess. The irrepressible page Cherubino is played by Marta Fontanals-Simmons, whose smooth mezzo-soprano and developing control complement her accomplished comic acting. In fact, the acting in general is of a very high standard, particularly from Joshua Bloom as Figaro and Duncan Rock as Count Almaviva, with every knowing glance and sigh of exasperation lending texture and humour to the story.
The audience at Garsington really embrace the experience: we saw the unveiling of the scenery for Act 4, an homage to the gardens at the opera series' original home at Garsington Manor, greeted with spontaneous applause; our neighbours were courteous and knowledgeable, and there was a nice sense of occasion and fellow-feeling. This is a grand but also fun night out, and the organisers have gone to great lengths to ensure that everything is smooth-running and comfortably lavish. Visiting Garsington Opera at Wormsley is, as their publicity puts it, 'from start to finish, designed for pleasure'.