Andrew Palmer, Group Editor

Longborough Festival Opera The First 30 Years

Richard Bratby has had a busy time. Having chronicled the 50th anniversary of the Academy of Ancient Music, he has turned the first 30 years of the Longborough Festival Opera into a book.

It is a beautifully presented volume, as befits this annual summer opera fest. The photographs are marvellously produced, and the chosen selection details not only the many productions, but also the building of Longborough, the festival, and the Graham family. In essence, a lovely package.

Bratby quotes from Das Rheingold Scene II as he charts Longborough’s development to capture the essence of Martin Graham’s vision: ‘As in dreams I conceived it, as by my will it was decreed, a strong and fair hall stands in sight: hallowed noble hall!’

Martin Graham arrived in the village of Longborough in 1949, aged six. He describes growing up in a Cotswold village as not too dissimilar to Laurie Lee’s childhood.

In interviewing Martin Graham, Bratby uses Graham's well-chosen quotations to help the reader understand what lay behind the dream; all the contributions add to the readability of the book that delve into the heart, soul and personality of Longborough. Along the way there are amusing tales such as Dora the pet dog eating someone’s picnic and other little incidents.

Bratby has done an excellent job of making the narrative compelling and engaging. There is a certain degree of English eccentricity that the author mentions, plus a lovely Michael Portillo quotation: “I loved the crushed velvet sitting proudly between the clipboard boxes."

Nothing would get in the way of Graham's utopia, and we are brought up to date to only a few years ago detailing the effects of COVID and the festival’s response and survival. Thank goodness it did survive. The appendix has a list of the operas performed as well as the administrative staff and trustees.

The reminiscences are fascinating, the anecdotes build the picture to record Martin and Lizzie Graham’s remarkable achievement.

As Bratby chronologically works his way through the development of the chicken shed that matures into a 500-seat concert venue designed by John Whittan, there are reminders of Wagner and his Bayreuth Festspiel. Bratby writes at the conclusion that when Richard Wagner built his own opera house at Bayreuth, it was originally intended as a temporary structure with wooden frames. Barns have frames of steel that are a bit tougher. But human personalities invest buildings with meaning and it is precisely that element that this book captures so perfectly: charismatic personalities and human devotion and creativity.

The 'swashbuckling' but diplomatic Martin Graham also provides lessons in how to bring communities along with his project plus how to influence to make the dream a reality. And through its management, artists and audience all united by a shared trust and a common sense of commitment, the impossible becomes possible.

The passion and enthusiasm of all concerned shine through with a luminosity that captures the imagination.

It is a delightful story that any music lover and/or opera devotee will enjoy, and if nothing else, like me, it is an enticement to get to Longborough and enjoy the Festival.

An inspiring tale that will drive anyone with a vision to go ahead and fulfil their dream because, ‘as a man in tennis shoes once said, to build an opera house, simply go into a field with a space. The rest is easy.’

The Longborough Festival Opera: the first 30 years by Richard Bratby ISBN: 9781739547806 is available here

This year's Longborough Festival runs from 16 June to 6 August 2024. For more information click here