A summer evening’s delight came to mind when we heard of the kind invitation to attend an open air performance of Verdi’s La Traviata in Chiswick House Gardens, which could have been custom made, a befitting end to this warm summer evening with a temperature of 33 degrees. We accepted at once and hoping for not only an experience of music and culture but for some refreshing breeze which was nowhere to be found in the city.

Opera is always a special occasion provoking all kinds of emotions. Experiencing it in an informal setting combined with chic picnicking, a glass of wine and the sound of champagne popping corks against one of London’s most stunning and historic building is something new and exciting. Chiswick House and Gardens is a magnificent neo-Palladian villa set in beautiful historic gardens in West London and part of the grounds had been transformed in splendidly atmospheric settings.

It was also a novelty listening to this opera in the vernacular as opposed to the Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, based on La dame aux Camélias (1852), a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. The opera was originally entitled Violetta, after the main character and was first performed on 6 March 1853 at the La Fenice opera house in Venice. This evening we were enjoying La Traviata performed by one of the best open-air companies in the country, Focus Opera.

La Traviata is the story of a Parisian courtesan who sacrifices all for love and is still a modern every day story in our society. It was directed as well as performed by Sarah Helsby Hughes who sang the role of the Parisian courtesan Violetta and enchanted us all with her arresting performance both as a director and singer. The rest of the cast is equally as engaging and dazzling with Nicholas Saeles who sang Violetta’s ardent lover Alfredo.

Chiswick House Friends, the promoters of Opera in the Gardens, use the events to generate funds to help support special projects, educational initiatives and acquisitions at Chiswick House. Opera Chairman Diane Treganowan comments: ‘An evening watching Focus Opera in these beautiful gardens with a glass of wine and a picnic is truly an English summer at its best. The popularity of Focus Opera’s performances is increasing every year as opera lovers across West London discover their exciting and witty adaptations of popular productions. Furthermore we’re raising funds to support important projects in the house and gardens’.

Focus Opera was formed by Conductor and Composer Benjamin Ellin and the late Keith Cheetham who met through projects associated with Cambridge University’s Pembroke College and were driven by a mutual passionate desire to communicate and reinterpret music and stories from the world of opera. Since its inception in 2009, Focus Opera has aspired to tailor its productions to site specific locations using the physical space to create an arena in which the concept, drama and music and performers unite with the audience into a cohesive and meaningful whole. This was most certainly achieved on this truly perfect English summer evening.