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The Rake at Garsington


One of the serious delights of summer in England is opera at various country houses. Glyndebourne is the most famous, but there are also Garsington and the Grange. On Saturday I went to Garsington to hear The Rake's Progress.

Garsington's 17th century manor house has an idyllic country setting. It always amazes me that it is only a couple of miles from the Mini Cooper factory on the outskirts of Oxford.

You set out your picnic before the performance, at elegant tables in the garden or under tents in case of rain, have a glass of champagne, and wander around the lovely vegetable gardens, pond, statues, and flower gardens. Then it's off to the first half of the performance.

I was caught up in the emotions of the opera, partly because it is sung in English. The libretto is by WH Auden and Chester Kallman. The opera is based on Hogarth's A Rake's Progress, which paints the precipitous decline of a spendthrift son and heir who has too much money and time on his hands.

Then came an hour and a half of dining during the interval, before returning for the second half. It's wonderful to eat and talk about music with friends.


Hogarth's Rake in Bedlam

The girl who always loved Tom Rakewell, Anne Truelove, was very sad, as was I, to see him make such a pathetic end. Ironically Nick Shadow, the alter-ego who led him astray, also mourns his destruction. They all seem to agree that the devil finds work for idle hands, a notion that has some relevance today.