Stuart Macbeth praises the performances of soprano Elena Xanthoudakis in this production of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor

There’s an inviting, convivial atmosphere about Winslow Hall, celebrating its third season of opera with Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Picnic tables are spread out around this large country house, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The Hall’s owner strolls the grounds in tartan trousers, welcoming people in a plummy accent around the marquee, where the action takes place.

Inside, seats are pushed up against the orchestra pit, making for a lively and intimate space. The set is a hinged panel about 30 feet long, displaying a monochrome view of the Highlands. The panel periodically opens to allow cast members through, and reflects coloured light from above. It’s sparse — but so, I’d imagine, would be the scenes in 17th-century Scotland where the opera is set. As a result the emphasis falls squarely on the singing, which is superb. Romanian baritone Vasile Chisiu played a dastardly Enrico, at the centre of much of the action.

The star of the show, however, was Australian soprano Elena Xanthoudakis in the title role of Lucia. Lucia is a woman with so many men interfering in her business that she doesn’t know what to do with herself, and eventually descends into madness. Xanthoudakis’ acting is superb, bathed in blood red light from above. Her voice is clear and loud and she sings the opera’s celebrated mad scene with panache, helped by excellent acoustics.

The orchestra also deserves a special mention. It’s a nice touch when the house’s owner introduces the conductor as his brother.

There were a few grumbles among the audience about the lack of English surtitles. But to me — and I frequently lost track of the plot — it all adds to the atmosphere of being part of an exclusive club. This was like travelling back in time to catch the early days of established events like Glyndebourne or Garsington Opera, and experiencing them at their purest.

After a slightly boozy picnic, I’m swept away by Donizetti’s music. And with tickets priced only slightly higher than the best seats at the New Theatre, this is a great way to experience live opera.