To be able to stroll around Wormsley’s grounds, to picnic at leisure overlooking the lake or cricket pitch, to sit in the magnificent pavilion on a summer’s evening and take in the green and pleasant wonder that surrounds the setting for Garsington’s extended festival of opera is certainly worth the price of entry to this new Community Opera. Having been to a performance of the more traditional (and expensive) professional-only production, where everyone is dressed formally and having a magnificent time, it was initially odd to be sitting around in shorts, but then the sunshine, the deer and the loveliness of your surroundings take precedence. It’s definitely a good thing that this experience has been opened up to a broader swathe of the public, as spectators, but also as performers of all ages.A broad swathe indeed, as the company manage to squeeze 200-odd performers onto the stage at one point of the proceedings. The response to the outreach by Garsington to find local performers has clearly been outstanding. These performers are accompanied by several professional opera singers, who take the lion’s share of the solos and did well to coax the best from what must have been very nervous children. If anything the kids do steal the show – their choral timing was definitely sharper at the beginning than many of the adult groups, and their mischievous joy underpins the story well as the flora and fauna of the village “Trenton Oldfield”.
The story of a community opera should, I suppose, reflect to a greater or lesser extent the community from which it’s drawn. Road Rage does this, albeit not in a particularly attractive way. The story is about a village, named after an immigrant who may yet be deported for protesting inequality, opposing a new toll road being built through the village green, because the local MP & Minster for Infrastructure doesn’t want it to go too near his house. The original protester, ‘the girl’, played very well by Clare Presland, opposes it immediately, on principle, to save the local animals and trees.It would’ve been smart if everyone else took that line, but it ends up descending into a bizarre epic of nimbyism, to the extent that I hoped that I just ‘wasn’t getting’ the irony or parody the writers were going for. There were certainly the makings of an entertaining look at town/country dichotomies, or government and the little man – the MP and his myriad BlackBerry wielding advisors were almost perfect for that. But when ‘We didn’t move here for change’, ‘We want things to stay the same’ and ‘Find something rare so they can’t build it here’, are the rallying cries, all set to airs evoking Vaughn Williams, it doesn’t paint an inviting picture – if that’s what they were going for, then bravo.
The performances were commendable though, and in general the music was great, except for the poor Red Kites, whose comedic, musical and high-wire skills were marred by arrhythmic songs that were more musical than opera and didn’t really fit in with anything. Having said that, this is still a magnificent initiative that needs to be encouraged and nurtured for the future of Garsington to make sense, and I look forward to next year’s season.