Don’t miss Buxton Festival

OtelloIt is possible to totally immerse yourself in the arts for a day, a weekend or even two weeks at Buxton Festival.

The meticulous planning of the annual event, which is now in its 36th year, means that you can easily slip from an early morning talk, to a lunchtime recital, afternoon opera and jazz in the evenings.

On top of that free events pop up in the bandstand and there is always entertainment from the Fringe Festival, which has a spectacular programme of theatre, comedy, music, film, exhibitions and poetry.

Add all of this to the fantastic atmosphere the festival brings to the spa town and you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else while it is being staged.

As ever, opera production is the central pillar of the festival. Artistic director Stephen Barlow has continued the tradition of reviving overlooked masterpieces.

Dvořák’s The Jacobin creates a romantic village atmosphere, with sentimental action and open-hearted lyricism; Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice is considered a milestone both in Gluck’s work and in the history of opera; and Rossini’s Otello is especially notable for its original and highly sympathetic portrayal of the character of Desdemona and its superb third act.

There’s also the Mahogany Opera Group’s production of HK Gruber’s Gloria – A Pigtale  which is a ‘cabaret opera’ performed by five ‘human sausages’ and a big band, mixing jazz, blues, Bavarian oompah, Mahler and Wagner. Soprano Gillian Keith who takes the lead role of Gloria is featured on pages six and seven of artsbeat this month.

There is just too much going from on July 11-27, to list it all here, but there are brochures for both the festival and the fringe and both have brilliant websites where you can check out all the details.

What were are going to do is recommend four different days on which you might like to visit.

Friday July 18: This day is perfect for those of you who love gardening and cooking as well as music. You will be starting the day with a talk by Claudia Roden about her best selling book The Food of Italy which is celebrating its 25th anniversary at 10.30am and then having a short break for refreshments before going to the Pavilion Arts Centre at noon for a piano recital by Sofya Gulyak, who has appeared all over the world to great acclaim. She is playing among others Chopin’s Ballade No 1.

Next up from 2-3pm is Sarah Raven, a gardener and writer who will be talking about Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst. As her husband is Vita’s grandson there is no doubt she will have some great anecdotes.

Now you have time for a late lunch or early dinner before going to the pre-opera talk at 6.15 followed by The Jacobin at 7.15pm.

Saturday July 19: This time you start the day at 10.30am with a talk by former MP and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth. The 7 Secrets of Happiness is a journey in search of contentment starting in Las Vegas with Frank Sinatra and ending in Dr Antony Clare’s psychiatrist’s chair in Dublin.

You can follow that with the Northern Chamber Orchestra’s Wind Ensemble at St John’s Church until 1pm. There is then time for lunch and a wander before listening to mezzo-soprano Rosalind Plowright and pianist Philip Mountford at the Pavilion Arts Centre from 3.30-5pm. Finish the day off with the opera Orfeo ed Euridice at 7.15pm.

Sunday July 20: First up at 10.30am is former home secretary Alan Johnson in conversation with Dame Janet Smith about his unusual childhood. Follow this with an early lunch and then the pre-opera talk at 1.30pm and concert performance of Otello at 2.30pm. In the evening at 7.15pm you can catch Radio Four’s Today programme presenter James Naughtie in conversation with former MP Matthew Parris who is a long time friend of the festival. You can then finish the evening off from 9-10pm with the international renowned Huddersfield Choral Society in St John’s Church. They will be performing among other pieces Vaughan Williams’ Six Choral Songs to be Sung in Time of War.

The final choice we are recommending is Saturday July 26, which begins at 10.30am with a talk by one of our foremost and acclaimed writers Dame Margaret Drabble who is returning to Buxton with her latest novel The Pure Gold Baby. There is then time to catch The Fibonacci Sequence, which includes flute, harp, clarinet, violin, viola and cello. If you want lunch you will have to miss the pre-opera talk at 1.30pm but you will then be able to watch Gloria – A Pigtale with Gillian Keith at 2.30pm. We suggest you have a snack and catch the talk and then have a very leisurely dinner after the opera before finishing your evening with Peggy Duke and Benny which takes a selection of tunes associated with Peggy Lee, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman and features Georgina Jackson who is a first call trumpet player and jazz singer and regularly fronts the Ronnie Scott Big Band. The evening kicks off at 9pm in the Pavilion Café.

There are plenty of cafes and restaurants in Buxton where you can eat but if you have time for a drive out to the surrounding countryside (after the opera on Saturday June 26) try the Royal Oak at Hurdlow – one of the best pubs for food in the county – taking the scenic route through Earl Sterndale.

For further details visit or call the box office on 0845 127 2190. You can watch a video about the festival here.