Annemarie Field, a self-confessed opera newbie, discovers a visit to Glyndebourne is about more than just the opera......
According to the good old Internet, there are five things everyone should know about opera.
A simple search on Google reveals that not all operas are sung in foreign languages and neither are all singers overweight; opera can be funny; it’s for all ages and you don’t need to spend a proverbial arm or leg to go and see it.
And now to add a numero six to that list is the fact that us Sussex folk are lucky enough to have reportedly one of the world’s finest opera houses right here on our doorstep – Glyndebourne on the outskirts of Lewes.
Nestling alongside a beautiful country manor house is the magnificent theatre – built at a cost of £34 million funded mainly through donations – a large brick oval building with a horseshoe-shaped auditorium inside with 1,200 seats, balconies and a gallery topped with a circular roof.
Glyndebourne is recognised internationally as one of the great opera houses: a reputation that stems from a passion for artistic excellence encapsulated in founder John Christie’s insistence on doing “not the best we can but the best that can be done anywhere”.
John and his opera wife singer Audrey Mildmay founded the Festival in 1934 and in 1968 the Tour was established to bring opera to new audiences across the country and create opportunities for talented singers.
Today – and still under the control of the Christie family – Glyndebourne is a 12 month operation.
My first trip there – an easy 15 minute train journey from Eastbourne and free return shuttle bus service from Lewes Railway Station – coincided with the start of the Tour season at the Sussex landmark at the start of October.
For the uninitiated there are two seasons so to speak at Glyndebourne: the Festival, which runs during the summer months and is possibly your archetypical opera outing complete with dinner suits, fancy frocks and picnic hampers. Then there is the Tour, which this year runs from October until December 2.
Following three weeks of performances at Glyndebourne, the Tour visits Canterbury, Woking, Norwich, Milton Keynes and Plymouth.
The offerings this year are the new opera, Hamlet, and two revivals, Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, which translates to Women are Like That, and Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, or to give it its English title, the Barber of Seville.
It was Mozart’s satirical comedy of the relationships between men and women that we were lucky enough to see on our maiden trip.
Così opens in a café with two officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo discussing how they believe their fiancées, Dorabella and Fiordiligi respectively, will stay faithful to them. They put their lovers to the test and the results are hilarious.
Playing the four lovers are Ukranian tenor Bogdan Volkov, Russian baritone Ilya Kutyukhin, Canadian soprano Kirsten MacKinnon and Irish mezzo-soprano Rachel Kelly.
The cast is completed by Portuguese baritone Jose Fardilha as Don Alfonso and Portuguese soprano Ana Quintans who plays Despina and was definitely the star of the show in my book.
The opera is sung in Italian but helpfully there are English surtitles on a carefully placed screen above the stage.
The two act performance included an interval of 20 minutes (you can beat the queues and pre-order drinks online) but the breaks at the festival in the summer are 90 minutes and certainly long enough to get the blanket out and tuck into a picnic within Glyndebourne’s beautifully manicured gardens.
If however, you enjoy the great indoors there are three on site restaurants offering everything from a relaxed afternoon tea to sumptuous fine dining.
As enjoyable as our first trip to Glyndebourne was, I now cannot wait until May next year when the 2018 Festival gets underway.
Included in the line-up is Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Debussy’s only opera Pelleas et Melisande and Handel’s Giulio Cesare, and we will be making a day of it complete with a hamper full of goodies and a bottle of fizz.
Tickets for all Festival performances are available to Glyndebourne members and then to the general public.
Members take more than three quarters of Festival tickets but it still leaves around 20,000 available and the advice is never to assume Glyndebourne is sold out.
For more details visit www,glyndebourne.com