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For all these non-standard operas the productions were right on the money, and although Glyndebourne’s Vanessa was the most elaborate and impressive, with an exemplary cast plus superb sets and lighting, like other major opera houses it can find itself hostage to directorial creativity that doesn’t always work. This year Glyndebourne revived the 2014 Rosenkavalier, having completely changed the absurdly tight costume for the trouser role of Octavian. Heavily criticised four years ago, it destroyed the illusion of his being a young man, but fixing one problem only served to focus attention on some of the other outré aspects of Richard Jones’s production — the bartering for young Sophie, the gratuitous appearance of Sigmund Freud, and the Marschallin’s young servant eavesdropping and sniffing at her clothing. Even a marvellous director like Richard Jones can overdo the comedy, losing the lightness that the composer intended, and Glyndebourne must be careful here. There is now plenty of competition, and since many other summer festivals haven’t the wherewithal to store old sets and create revivals, each year everything is new, so badly received productions do not reappear.

The important thing is the music, as those German refugees who put on the first Glyndebourne productions were well aware, and in this context the new Grange Festival does an extraordinary job under Michael Chance. A counter-tenor of great musicality, he shepherded in a terrific production of Handel’s Agrippina, plus a delightful Abduction from the Seraglio by Mozart, making the Festival a showpiece of 18th- (and even 17th-) century excellence. For those keen on more standard repertoire, there is plenty of that too. I’m told the Falstaff at Garsington was excellent, and Leicestershire’s Nevill Holt celebrated the opening of its new opera house — cleverly created out of an old stable block — with a vibrant young cast for Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.

Also outside London, Longborough Festival Opera in Gloucestershire featured a notable Flying Dutchman this year and in 2020 will deliver the first opera in a new Ring cycle. With little money for sets and costumes, it is all about the music and singing. This year music director and Wagner expert Anthony Negus also took on Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, consisting of a prologue and a one-act opera interspersed with contributions from a commedia dell’arte troupe.

Opera Holland Park put on the same work but in a more elaborate production that turned the Major Domo into a female party planner and the composer of the one-act opera into a lesbian. Although the audience seemed to enjoy it, the performance missed the emotional tensions driving the prologue, which are essential to  a  full appreciation of the work.  At Longborough, however, Negus gave full weight to the inner conflicts of a young composer compelled to compromise his art by allowing comedy characters to interfere with his creation. Emphasising the music above all else does a great service to Britain’s summer opera scene, which has no need to buy in big international voices, but must beware of allowing the stage directors to spoil things.
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