Garsington Opera is an annual open air summer opera festival founded in 1989 by Leonard Ingrams. For 21 years it was held in the gardens of Ingrams's home at Garsington Manor in Oxfordshire. Since 2011 the festival is held in Wormsley Park, the home of the Getty family near Stokenchurch in Buckinghamshire, England. After Ingrams's death in 2005 Anthony Whitworth-Jones became its General Director until 2013 when Douglas Boyd became Artistic Director.
A characteristic feature of Garsington Opera's programming has been the combination of well known operas with discoveries of little known works. These have included the British premieres of Richard Strauss' Die ägyptische Helena, Rossini’s La gazzetta and L'equivoco stravagante, and Vivaldi's L'incoronazione di Dario. The festival also gave the first British professional productions of Haydn's La vera costanza, Strauss' Die Liebe der Danae, Janáček's Šárka, and Tchaikovsky's Cherevichki.
Performances take place in the specially designed seasonal Opera Pavilion from within which it is possible to view the surrounding landscape. This maintains the link with the outside, a tradition at Garsington Opera. Opera-goers are served champagne before the performances, which begin in the early evening. Like Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Garsington Opera has long dinner intervals and evening dress is suggested. Operas are often performed in their original language with English surtitles.
In 1982, financier Leonard Ingrams (brother of Richard Ingrams, the founder of Private Eye) and his wife Rosalind bought Garsington Manor and soon realised the opportunities it offered for outdoor performance. The family became well known for organizing this annual season of opera in the manor gardens.
Garsington Manor saw its opera first performance in 1989 when Opera 80 performed Le nozze di Figaro in aid of the Oxford Playhouse. The success of the performance led to the founding of Garsington Opera soon afterwards by Leonard Ingrams. In 1990, the company's first season comprised Mozart's Così fan tutte and the British premiere of Haydn's Orlando paladino. Ingrams asked the Guildhall Strings to play for his new company, and within a few years Garsington Opera had its own orchestra whose core remained the Guildhall Strings. Within four years, Garsington Opera started staging three different productions of different operas. This format remains the same today. At the same time it began presenting complete four-week seasons on its own.
Ingrams also used the barn at Garsington Manor for an annual series of chamber music concerts. He installed into the barn the panelling from the old auditorium at Glyndebourne which was then being thrown out when the new auditorium at Glyndebourne was built. The barn was also used as the restaurant during the opera season, and opera guests could dine in it during the interval. The operas were performed on the stone loggia which overlooks the seried flower garden, designed and planted by Lady Ottoline Morrell when she owned the Manor during and after the First World War and entertained her famous Bloomsbury guests there e.g. T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Betrand Russell, W.B.Yeats. As demand for the opera rapidly grew Ingrams commissioned a purpose-built auditorium seating around 500 people. The auditorium was noted for its natural acoustic and good sight-lines. The stage was partly covered by a PVC fabric canopy completed in 1995 but was open to the gardens behind. Each year at the end of the season the entire edifice was dismantled and the fabric returned to Architen Landrell, the canopy's designers, for maintenance and storage.
Sound-proofing screens were later erected around the theatre in response to complaints from a group of Garsington residents living near the Manor. In 1996, they won £1,000 compensation for noise disturbance caused by the operas. When the award was overturned on appeal, local resident Monica Waud led her neighbours in a civil disobedience campaign during the 1997 performance of Haydn's Le Pescatrici. The protesters simultaneously began cutting their lawns with electric lawnmowers and diesel tractors, trimming their hedges, and turning on their hoses. Car alarms were set off and as a grand finale a private plane piloted by Miss Waud's companion flew overhead. In 2001 the protesters tried unsuccessfully to use the Human Rights Act to block Garsington Opera performances, claiming that they denied them the right to the "peaceful enjoyment of their possessions". The South Oxfordshire environmental health service undertook in-house monitoring of opera performances in each season from 2000 through 2005, but on each occasion concluded that there was no statutory noise nuisance.
Leonard Ingrams died from a heart attack on 27 July 2005 at the age of 63. In November of that year, Garsington Opera announced that it would continue, following the appointment of Anthony Whitworth-Jones as General Director. Rosalind Ingrams (Leonard’s widow) became President; her daughter Catherine Ingrams joined the Board. Anthony Whitworth-Jones had been General Director of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera from 1989 to 1998 and of the Dallas Opera from 2000 to 2002. Whitworth-Jones noted that "under Leonard Ingrams’ passionate leadership, (it) has established a reputation for musical excellence, the presentation of some fascinating operatic rarities and the promotion of young singers. I will try to uphold and develop this tradition" In the first season under Whitworth-Jones'a leadership (2006), the company performed Rimsky-Korsakov's Mayskaja Noch, Donizetti's Don Pasquale, and Der Stein der Weisen (The Philosopher's Stone), a collaborative work by Emanuel Schikaneder, Mozart, and other members of Mozart's circle. In April 2008, the Ingrams family announced that the Manor would not be able to host performances after the 2010 season, although the family would continue its support for the company.
Garsington Opera announced in April 2010 that it had reached agreement with the Getty family to hold the opera festival at Wormsley Park. The company's new performing space is a 600-seat pavilion, which like that at Garsington Manor is designed to be put up and dismantled each season. The first season at Wormsley Park saw the performance of Vivaldi's La verità in cimento in its British premiere, Mozart's The Magic Flute and Rossini's Il turco in Italia. The company is now financed by The Friends of Garsington Opera, corporate and private sponsorship, and the support of foundations.
Amongst the notable singers who have performed with the company are Susan Chilcott (The Countess in Le nozze di Figaro, 1993 ) Susan Bullock (Helena in Die ägyptische Helena, 1997) and Yvonne Kenny (Christine in Intermezzo, 2001). Conductors include David Parry, Ivor Bolton, Jane Glover, and the founder of Grange Park Opera, Wasfi Kani. In addition to conducting Garsington Opera performances, Kani also served as the company's Assistant Director from 1993 to 1998.
While several productions of operas in the standard repertory are given, those which are rarely given or are national premieres etc. are included here.