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Opera Prelude: ‘Red Roses and Red Noses’ – Life in the English Country House 1918-1939

With writer and historian Adrian Tinniswood

Venue: Caversham Room at Cadogan Hall

With writer and historian Adrian Tinniswood, Callie Gaston (soprano), TBC (tenor) and Natalie Burch (piano).

There is nothing quite as beautiful as an English country house in summer. And there has never been a summer quite like that Indian summer between the two world wars, a period of gentle decline in which the sun set slowly on the British Empire and the shadows lengthened on the lawns of a thousand stately homes.

Adrian Tinniswood, “gifted and spirited communicator”, is the author of the Daily Telegraph Book of the Year The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House Between the Wars. His definitive social history combines scholarly anecdote and narrative with a boundless taste for gossip! Here is the society decorator Sibyl Colefax, burning rosemary on saucers so that her Chelsea villa might smell enticing to guests she hoped to bag as clients; here is the future Edward VIII doing his needlepoint on a low modern sofa at the newly remodelled Fort Belvedere in Windsor Great Park; and here is Edwin Lutyens worrying about Castle Drogo in Devon, the modern yet timelessly solid place he is building for the tea importer Julius Drewe. Many of these houses were at the centre of glittering social circles, where their owners entertained some of the most diverse, creative and influential people of the era – the parties were often legendary but real life in the country house during the 1920s and 1930s was not always so sunny. By turns opulent and ordinary, noble and vicious, its shadows were darker.

During the course of this morning’s lecture recital, we will discover the truth about a world half-forgotten, draped in myth and hidden behind stiff upper lips and film-star smiles. Drawing on hundreds of memoirs, on unpublished letters and diaries, on the eye-witness testimonies of belted earls and unhappy heiresses and bullying butlers, The Long Weekend gives a voice to the people who inhabited this world. He brings to life the stately homes of England, showing how the image of the country house was carefully protected by its occupants above and below stairs, and how the reality was so much more interesting than the dream.

Continuing the theme of life above and below stairs, Opera Prelude’s young artists will accompany Adrian, filling the morning with an eclectic selection of music, some composed for and by the occupants of these great houses, such as Lord Berners’ Red Roses and Red Noses, sparkling numbers by Noel Coward, and Mozart’s playful arias that mocked the difference between the classes and challenged social stereotypes of the day.

Adrian Tinniswood is a native of Derby in the UK. He is the author of 14 books on architectural and social history, including the Sunday Times bestseller The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House Between the Wars and Behind the Throne: A Domestic History of the Royal Household.

Adrian is Senior Research Fellow in History at the University of Buckingham, and a Visiting Fellow in Heritage and History at Bath Spa University. He lives in Somerset and the west of Ireland.

In June 2013 Adrian was awarded an OBE for services to heritage.

Part of Opera Prelude Lecture Series 2018-19

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Concert Duration:
2 hours

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£30

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