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Opera and Foxhounds – an unlikely, but successful partnership


The Marriage of Figaro and Reynard. Opera singers are renowned for having some of the best voices in the world. Foxhounds, too, especially Penn-Marydels, are renowned for their voices. A good voice is essential so the hounds can be heard and located when they “speak” to the line of the fox (“Reynard”) or coyote. 

Oak Grove Master and Huntswoman Amanda McGee blends the best voices of both worlds. A mezzo-soprano with Opera Memphis, she has found singing to the Oak Grove foxhounds to be a great training tool. The hounds perk up and pay attention when she sings to them, evidently resonating with the inherent biological roots of both species.

The Harmony for Hounds Soirée. Before the days of radio, television, and Internet, particularly in rural areas, the most popular form of entertainment was music in the home. People traveled considerable distances, on horseback and in carriages, to gather with “neighbors” for evenings of dining and enjoying good music.

Emulating this historic tradition, on October 12, 2014 members and friends of Oak Grove Hunt Club gathered at Hedge Farm on Cayce Road, near Red Banks, Mississippi for an evening of opera music and ’ hors d’oeuvres. Guests enjoyed spine tingling auditory vibrations, mouthwatering culinary delights, and exquisite historical experiences. John Lofton, a former member of Oak Grove Hunt Club, graciously opened his historic home for the Harmony for Hounds soirée.

If folks don’t think they’re opera fans, just hearing the fantastic voices of the singers in an intimate “parlor” setting brings thrills to the ear. This was especially the case when Soprano, Tanisha Ward, hit the high notes when she sang “Un bel di Verdremo” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly; guests expected their wine glasses to shatter! When Tenor Russell Gammon sang “Nessun Dorma,” all that he needed to add was the characteristic white handkerchief of Luciano Pavarotti. Oak Grove Master Amanda McGee treated everyone with a seductive rendition of “L'amour est un oiseau rebelle” (Love is a rebellious bird) from Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Even Amanda’s six year old foxhunting daughter Evelyn joined the performance, as she sang “Castle on a Cloud” from the musical Le Miserables.

Opera Memphis singers Russell Gammon, Marcus King, Robin Wilcox, Drew Messengale and  Tanisha Ward were all accompanied by pianist and voice teacher Tommy Gaines. The singers performed three sets of selections from various operas as well as musicals. In the last set, some humorous selections from stage shows were performed, including an animated duet by Robin Wilcox and Drew Massengale from the musical Oliver, which had the audience in stitches.

About Hedge Farm: The antebellum home at Hedge Farm has been in John Lofton’s family since 1842, and is now home to Hedge Farm Candles (see: Hedge Farm was one of the featured homes on the 2014 Holly Springs Pilgrimage. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it has been described as one of the best examples of a planter’s cottage in the state of Mississippi. The property includes beautifully landscaped gardens, and retains many of the original hedgerows (for which the property was named) that were used instead of fencing in the 1870s. Once encompassing more than 2,000 acres, the house is now surrounded by 175 acres that formed the core of the original farm.

If you are interested in seeing the historic home and landscaped gardens, plus horses in the pasture, Hedge Farm is having an Open House on Thanksgiving weekend. Contact them to arrange a visit: event Line - 901.268.7568 or 662-838-3970.

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