VOG Paris & the United Kingdom Opera Tour
PARIS: Twenty-eight people gathered together in Paris on Friday, June 5, having travelled independently to reach the city. We stayed at the Hilton Concorde Hotel just in front of the Gare St. Lazare and close to shops, opera and Champs Élysées. It was a luxury choice which we normally would not have chosen but the hotel had been closed for renovation and just recently reopened, so I think we must have been given a good discount! We went to three operas: La Belle Helene at the Chatelet, which was brilliant and funny; The Magic Flute at Bastille; and a premiere, le Roi Arthus also at Bastille. The Flute was more or less traditional, with the stage extending in front of the orchestra and several of the entrances through the audience.
The King Arthur began with stentorian tones from Thomas Hampson that rang out into the theatre and made us all sit up! They then built up the house that Arthur and Guinevere lived in and then demolished it as the relationship broke down.
A visit to Monet’s garden and house in Giverney was the final event. The ride out to Giverney along the Seine was lovely, with a very informative guide who also accompanied us into the garden. The garden itself is in two parts, the Water Garden that we all know from the paintings, and the one surrounding the house which looks (to me) like an artist’s palette. The house was lovely too, especially the yellow kitchen.
BRIGHTON: The ride, via Eurostar, from Paris to Ashford was lovely once we were on the train but the organization at Gare du Nord was… very French! We spent our time in Brighton visiting the Royal Pavilion and shopping the Lanes. We were there for Glyndebourne, which is about 30 minutes away. It was a lovely day and the gardens were lovely. The opera, Poliuto, (Donizetti) was another premiere, never having been professionally performed in the UK. It was lovely music and magnificently sung by Michael Fabiano and Ana Maria Martinez. The dinner, during the long interval, was well-organised and beautifully served. Those who had taken, or ordered picnics, were delighted too. We finished the Brighton visit with a tour of Parham House, about 30 miles from Brighton, built in the late 1500s and always a family home. We toured the house and the walled garden and park as well as eating in the old kitchens.
OXFORD: On our journey west to Oxford we spent four hours at Wisley, where the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens are located. The scent of the Rose Garden, where the roses were in full bloom, was astonishing and the Glass House was so interesting. It also had one of the best gift stores and we gave them a lot of trade! We stayed in Oxford at a hotel that had been converted from several old houses, so no room was alike, but it was comfortable and very central, right across from the Examinations School and in the middle of examinations! We had a walking tour the first day and later that day we headed for Garsington for a performance of Intermezzo (R. Strauss). It was a colder day than we had experienced up to this point, and we really needed the blankets provided as the theatre is a scaffolding construction and the wind does move through. The singing (in English) was lovely and the production imaginative, but while the music was glorious the story is for the head not the heart!
The gardens at Highgrove, in Tetbury in the S. Cotswold area, were anticipated with joy. We had a lovely drive through the Cotswold villages and a two-hour guided tour of the garden which was most interesting. The joy of the day was when, at the end of the tour, we were close to the house, and we could see a baby carriage with an old fashioned canopy on it, being wheeled up and down a path not too far from us. Then a helicopter came over us and descended into the front of the garden, preventing us from seeing who was actually in the helicopter. When we tried to find out who was in it no one would tell us but our driver, Tom, whose son was in the MET Police Royal Protection unit, asked one of the police who said –‘who do you think?’. So we are convinced that we actually saw the latest Royal baby being pushed around in her pram by her nanny. We drove up to London via Windsor the next day. As it was the opening of Ascot the State Apartments were closed but there were a lot of well-dressed people around. In London we went to the Royal Opera, Covent Garden for a very good Don Giovanni and the English National Opera for Queen of Spades, beautifully sung but in a modern-day production. Others chose la Traviata at Covent Garden and came back walking on air!
We finished our tour with a visit to Canada House in Trafalgar Square, which had been refurbished recently. It was wonderful! Our 3/4-hour tour became 1-1/2 hours! It is a beautiful building and filled with interesting from each province. Well worth seeing. Early the following morning half the group returned to Canada and those who remained left the Strand Palace, where we had stayed, to continue with their own plans.
Many thanks to all who travelled with us.
Lis Dawson and Ellen Doise, Co-Leaders