Best summer festivals 2008

Aldeburgh Festival, Suffolk

June 13–29

There are several treats in the line-up at Snape Maltings, where the featured composer György Kurtág gives a recital on June 19.

What’s new? The world premiere of the opera An Ocean of Rain by the Anglo-Cypriot composer Yannis Kyriakides (June 13), and a new work for piano and cello written and performed by festival director Thomas Adès and cellist Stephen Isserlis (June 17).

Offbeat The prize for most quirky event goes to an evening of new music in the Hush House at Bentwaters Airbase, a Cold War hangar used for testing jet engines (June 28).

01728 687110;

Garsington Opera, Oxfordshire

To July 6

Make the most of this much-loved festival of opera staged on the terrace of the Jacobean manor, with picnic opportunities in the beautiful gardens, as it’ll be moving to a new venue in 2010.

What’s new? Garsington’s production of Vivaldi’s L’incoronazione di Dario is a world premiere of a new edition released by the Antonio Vivaldi Institute. Directed by David Freeman, it features Paul Nilon in the title role. A new production of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, directed by Olivia Fuchs, is another highlight, plus a revival of John Cox’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte.

01865 361636; www.garsington

BBC Proms, London

July 18–September 13

This great British institution, now 114 years old, still has space for challenging and contemporary new work. Among the 76 concerts taking place in the Royal Albert Hall are 11 BBC commissions and nine further premieres. You can book ahead, turn up on the day, or sit back and listen to it all live on Radio 3.

What’s special? The anniversaries of three composers Vaughan Williams, Messiaen and Elliott Carter are celebrated, and stars include Murray Perahia and Nigel Kennedy.

0845 401 5040;

Buxton Festival, Derbyshire

July 9–27

This beautiful spa town blossoms in July, when more than 120 events take place in its opera house and other venues. Highlights include a recital by Sir Thomas Allen (July 9), literary talks by Antonia Fraser, Joanne Harris and Sir Menzies Campbell, and a triple bill of chamber operas by Holst and Vaughan Williams.

What’s new? Lortzing’s The Poacher and a Handel’s Samson set in the Gaza Strip.

0845 127 2190;

The Cheltenham Music Festival, Gloucestershire

July 4–19

Meurig Bowen’s first season as director opens with a concert by the BBC Philharmonic playing a mixed bill including Britten and Vaughan Williams. Other highlights include a Handel and Vivaldi recital by mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly (July 13) and a Schubert song cycle performed by tenor Allan Clayton (July 17).

01242 227979; www.cheltenham

Glyndebourne Opera, Sussex

To August 31

Top of the bill is the world premiere of Love and Other Demons, a joint commission with the BBC from the Hungarian composer Peter Eötvös. A tragic love story adapted from a novel by Gabriel García Márquez, it’s directed by Silviu Purcarete, and has Marisol Montalvo in the lead role.

What’s new? Two new productions: Monte-verdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea directed by Robert Carsen (with the sublime casting of Danielle de Niese as Poppea and Alice Coote as Nerone), and Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel, directed by Laurent Pelly. Also, three revivals: Graham Vick’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin; Peter Hall’s staging of Britten’s Albert Herring; and David McVicar’s colourful take on Bizet’s Carmen.

01273 813813;

Grange Park Opera, Hampshire

To July 9

The neo-Classical mansion provides a magical setting for opera. Shows include Stephen Langridge’s staging of Offenbach’s Blue Beard, with a James Bond flavour, and a new production of Dvorák’s tragic romance Rusalka, with Anne Sophie Duprels as the nymph.

Don’t miss A recital by Bryn Terfel in a drawing-room setting, a treat that will be repeated later at Grange Park’s sister venue, Nevill Holt, in Leicestershire.

01962 737366;

Lichfield Festival, Staffordshire

July 3 to 13

An attraction of this event is a chance to hear music and song in the setting of the city’s magnificent Gothic cathedral. The programme opens with a concert by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and pianist Alexei Volodin. Other highlights include a recital of Schubert’s Winterreise by tenor Mark Padmore (July 7).

Offbeat Casanova’s memoirs, read by Timothy West (July 6) and a new collaboration between Vikram Seth and composer Alec Roth (July 8).

01543 412121;

Longborough Opera, Gloucestershire

June 11–July 19

Picnic overlooking the Evenlode Valley and enjoy opera in an intimate, accessible setting, with Verdi’s La Traviata, Janácek’s The Cunning Little Vixen, Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea and a revival of Wagner’s Das Rhein-gold, plus a fundraising gala concert on June 21.

What’s new? The building, once a barn, has had a major facelift with a new façade, roof, and grand foyer. It’s now included in Pevsner.

01451 830292;

West Green House Opera, Hampshire

August 2–17

Picnic in style in a pavilion, then settle down for intimate performances of Verdi’s Falstaff and Strauss’ Die Fledermaus in the new theatre.

What’s new? Sweden’s Drottningholm opera company will be performing Hadyn’s Il Mondo Della Luna (August 16–17).

01252 845582;

Latitude, Suffolk

July 17–20

High culture meets pop

culture in the beautiful surroundings of Henham Park, Southwold. Visit the theatre tent for productions by the RSC (specially commissioned mini-epics), the Royal Court and the National Theatre; the library tent for readings by Toby Litt, Raffaella Barker and Simon Armitage; or the main stage for headlining pop acts such as Blondie and Franz Ferdinand. Camp or check into the boutique Yurt Hotel (Yurtel), where you get your own room and a real bed. Children under 13 go free.

0871 231 0821;

Womad, Wiltshire

July 25–27

This mellow festival in the lush setting of Charlton Park is a good family weekend, with food, music and dance from 36 countries—two children (13 and under) get in free with every adult ticket. Headline acts include reggae stars Eddy Grant and Lee Scratch Perry, and British band Squeeze. Day tickets are available for Sunday, or you can camp for the duration.

Offbeat If you don’t fancy roughing it, splash out on a Royal Maharaja Shikar tent in the walled garden, which has two bed-rooms and the morning papers offered with breakfast in the private dining area.

0845 146 1735;

Chichester Festival

To October 11

Veteran British actors are out in force, with Diana Rigg opening the season as Madam Ranevskaya in Philip Franks’ new staging of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Susan Hampshire playing Lady Kitty in Jonathan Church’s new production of Somerset Maugham’s The Circle. Other shows include Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author and easy-going musicals Funny Girl and The Music Man.

What’s new? Robert Lindsay as Aristotle Onassis in Aristo, a new play by Martin Sherman about the last years of the Greek tycoon’s life.

01243 781312;

Edinburgh International Festival

August 8–31

There’s so much that staying for the whole month may be the only answer. For serious theatregoers, there’s David Harrower’s new play 365, and, for music lovers, Valery Gergiev playing Prokofiev’s seven symphonies and Scottish Opera’s The Two Widows by Smetana.

What’s new? Stealing the show, no doubt, will be the world premiere of Matthew Bourne’s new dance work Dorian Gray.

Don’t miss The Fringe (August 3–25; and the Book Festival (August 9–25;

0131–473 2000;

The Cheltenham Literature Festival, Gloucestershire

October 10–19

Round off the summer with readings and talks in Georgian splendour. Guest directors Kate Adie and Ian Rankin headline, with confirmed names so far including Sir Roger Moore, Patrick Stewart and Rick Stein. The full programme will be available in August.

What’s new? The theme will be ‘family’.

01242 227979;

Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival, Warwickshire

June 29–July 27

A month of poetry recitals in the home town of Britain’s greatest literary hero. The programme includes readings by contemporary poets David Morley and Fiona Sampson, and a crowd-pleasing evening of poems by John Donne (July 20) performed by RSC actors Geoffrey Streatfeild and Chuk Iwuji.

Highlight A Dylan Thomas recital, with his daughter Aeronwy and actor Ian Hughes (July 13).

01789 204016;

Ways with Words, Devon

July 11–20

Hear some fine speakers, such as politicians Tony Benn and Martin Bell, biographers Claire Tomalin and Valerie Grove, and novelists Kate Mosse and Penelope Lively, in the medieval magnificence of Dartington Hall. Five-day, 10-day or weekend packages available.

01803 867373;