It has been a while since we last joined fellow Londoners as Glyndebourne attendees for a new Mozart opera production. This time it is to enjoy a setting by celebrated Canadian directing duo Barbe & Doucet making both their British and Glyndebourne debuts with their new Die Zauberflöte. The production is conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Russian soprano Sofia Fomina making a much-anticipated Glyndebourne debut as Pamina and tenor David Portillo as her beloved Tamino. Glyndebourne regular Brindley Sherratt returns as Sarastro, with the ebullient Björn Bürger as Papageno and rising young Norwegian soprano Caroline Wettergreen is the Queen of the Night.
Among this year’s fascinating productions, Handel’s Rinaldo and Dvořák’s Rusalka also complete the latter part of the summer programme but Mozart will always have strong attraction at Glyndebourne. From the stage in 1934, festival founder John Christie had promised that Glyndebourne would become a shrine to Mozart, highlighted by the festival archivist Julia Aires. Just how well Glyndebourne has succeeded in that aim is summed up by another of Glyndebourne’s great Mozart producers, she adds – the late, great Sir Peter Hall, who wrote in 1984: “Many of us – artists and audiences – have reason to be grateful that in Glyndebourne, England has found a place for Mozart.”
Enjoying a performance at Glyndebourne is regarded as part of the English summer season. Performances start in the afternoon, enabling Londoners to leave town midday, and finish in time for them to catch the last train back. A long interval allows guests the opportunity for picnic dinners on the extensive lawns or in one of the restaurants in the grounds. Annually in London, the company also presents an opera performance at The Proms, this year bringing this production of The Magic Flute in a concert staging on 27 August.
Now a major player on the English music scene, Glyndebourne had humble beginnings. John Christie's fondness for music led him to hold regular amateur opera evenings in his stately home. At one of these evenings in 1931, he met his future wife, the Sussex-born Canadian soprano Audrey Mildmay, a singer with the Carl Rosa Opera company who had been engaged to add a touch of professionalism to the proceedings. They were married on 4 June 1931. During their honeymoon, they attended the Salzburg and Bayreuth festivals, which gave them the idea of bringing professional opera to Glyndebourne, although Christie's original concept was for it to be similar to the Bayreuth Festival. As their ideas evolved, the concept changed to focus on smaller-scale productions of operas by Mozart more suited to the intimate scale of the planned theatre.
Christie’s son, George, and now grandson, Gus, have seen Glyndebourne gradually been transposed into one of the finest and most celebrated opera houses in the world, delivering performances to some 150,000 people across a summer Festival and an autumn Tour. Each summer, from May to August, Glyndebourne stages its major festival – their flagship season of world-class opera during which audiences can enjoy opera in our state-of-the-art indoor auditorium with its tradition of formal dress, where audience members relish the opportunity to dress up for a day.
A key part of the Glyndebourne Festival experience is the generous 90-minute interval – allowing guests to enjoy a picnic in the gardens or dinner at one of the three on-site restaurants. Guests are welcome to bring their own picnic, or order one to pick up when they arrive. And should you want to linger in the Sussex countryside not just for the day there are a number of delightful choices for overnight stays, the most indulgent being the Ockenden Manor five night tour where you can relax in their hotels and SPAs, explore the county, visit award-winning vineyards and delight in one or two opera experiences at Glyndebourne opera house.
For those who this may come at too short a notice, the auditorium comes to life once more in the autumn, with three weeks of performances on the main stage, including Handel’s aforementioned Rinaldo, Verdi’s Rigoletto and Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. These performances have a more casual dress code than the Festival, and a shorter interval. Many visitors choose to dine at one of the restaurants before or after the performance, depending on the start time of the show.
There is no reason to let Glyndebourne pass you by, there is even the option of enjoying one of the productions in cinemas, including live broadcasts from the auditorium and recordings of some of Glyndebourne’s best-loved productions in which The Magic Flute has featured prominently in the past and surely will in years to come.