This generously illustrated book will appeal to those who have followed Martin and Lizzie Graham’s obsessive dream turned into reality in creating an opera house in the Cotswolds. But it will also appeal to anyone who enjoys a tale of dogged perseverance in the face of what at times seems the chains of bureaucracy and suffocation of petty mindedness.
From recitals in the garden of their home outside the tiny village of Longborough, near Stowe on the World, the Graham set in motion a dream – vision – plan to create what is now the respected Longborough Festival Opera (LFO) which is celebrating its first 30 years.
“Longborough Festival Opera – the First 30 Years” by Richard Bratby, does an excellent job finding the essence of those fighting early years, whether it was the colour of the façade (it is pink), the VAT status of the arts organisation, the very existence of the project.
While it has a chronological narrative from that vision, through hosting other companies, the ongoing obsession (perhaps raison d’etre) with Wagner and the invaluable role of Anthony Negus, to LFO’s strong reputation and ambitious future, the challenge of Covid-19, the completion of the latest of its Ring Cycles, it is also a family story. This is even more pertinent as daughter Polly is now artistic director and a well-established director away from the Cotswold’s home and opera house.
It is of course not a one man or even one family story of the evolution of this 500 seat venue as the book credits the role of others who have been integral to the transformation of a Cotswold’s chicken shed into an opera house with plenty of feathers in its cap, and not chicken feathers.
For opera lovers who are able to travel internationally, the book reminds us of the associations (visual at least) with that other opera house dedicated to Wagner, his Bayreuth Festspiel, although our Cotswold’s pink façade is topped not only with a statue of Richard but also Verdi and Mozart. Unfortunately, I cannot but always think they each look like they are on skateboards but that is just me.
The book is out now and is well timed with a complete Ring Cycle being performed this summer (2024). But, as with those skateboarding composers, this is not only a shrine to Wagner. This year because of the mammoth Ring undertaking the only other offering is Puccini’s La Boheme, but in other years the repertoire is rich, varied and often a delight for discovering new and rising singing talent.
Longborough is also a wonderful place to visit not only for the opera but the grounds of the house overlooking the Evenlode Valley, picnicking al fresco or in a marquee or splashing out on fancy dining, in the long supper interval – and it is also somewhere to either dress up or dress comfortably.
For details of the 2024 season from June 16 to August 6, including three complete Ring cycles, visit: lfo.org.uk
Richard Bratby’s book is available in hardback or paperback from: https://lfo.org.uk/our-story/longborough-book