My friend Kim, whom I had met while living in Hong Kong, always loved music. Just before the handover of Hong Kong to mainland China, she and then husband decided to give up their very successful antique business on Hollywood Road and move to Bath, England. It was a far cry from the hustle of Hong Kong. But suddenly and without any warning there she was a newly single, beautiful Oriental woman on her own in a most conservative, albeit stunning city.
The charm of the Georgian homes on Royal Crescent and Pulteney Bridge which is often compared to the beautiful Ponte Vecchio in Venice, took some of the sting out of her new and different lifestyle. But there was no denying it, she was a rare gem in a foreign city.
However, Kim is a survivor and not wanting to neglect her musical talent and love for this artform and the knowiong also this would be the much need ‘leg up’ to meet some of the city’s locals, she became involved in the Iford Opera. And what an opera. Just about 15 minutes on country roads with Turner-esque scenery, is Iford Manor and the Peto Gardens where for 6 weeks during the summer, there are concerts of jazz, proms and operas. Here sits a 15th century miniature Italianate cloister quite stunning and unique. It also has the added exquisite attraction of acres of country side designed in the 19th century by architect and landscape gardener, Harold Peto. This is a luxurious travel experience at its best.
Surrounded by 10 miles of exquisite green space, the River Frome nearby as is the wooded valley and the well crafted pathways sided with huge displays of antique Italian imported statues, this venue for the 6 weeks each summer becomes an open air opera company. Iford Arts Festival performs a variety of music for the tastes of everyone from jazz to opera. The area is also perfect for a picnic before or after the performances.
As we walked through this incredible open -sided cloister with overtones of Rome, birds were flying about, a nest even sitting on one of the ledges between columns. It was easy to see that only 64 seats could be comfortably placed. And for the lucky ticket holders at each performance, it’s not unusual to see these birds fly about during the various stages of the opera, a winged ballet of sorts..
In the administrative building only two very busy executives and administrators work full time on setting the agenda for the season. They seemed a most relaxed but keen couple who are very much at home in this relatively neat office. Before the end of one season, preparation for the next start and so do inquiries. They still have to pinch themselves that this small company has become a staple for many opera lovers not only in the area but also much interest from sophisticated London and the environs . Tickets are at a premium as early as spring.
Although I had to decline tea due to a British rail train ticket to take me back to London, I had the rare opportunity of meeting the proprietors of Iford Manor. Next time I’m in Bath in June after my picnic in the garden and before the performance of the extraordinary repertoire including a Pleasure Gardens’ Concert, a cloister Concert, Jazz Prom and various operas, I will plan to meet with the exceptional couple who make these concerts available on one of the most stunning properties in England.