But as well as a first-rate musical line-up, it also offers an enchanting experience. The gardens – praised by no less an authority than Vita Sackville-West – demand to be explored. The South Downs, those most quintessentially English of hills, roll majestically in the distance. A trip to Glyndebourne is very much a complete day out. Performances tend to begin just before 5, and include a ninety-minute interval during which one can dine at a leisurely pace.
For first time visitors, it can be bewildering. This is our complete guide to enjoying one of the classical year’s greatest highlights.
What to wear: Glyndebourne Style
Tired of Covent Garden’s heterogeneous get-up, where dinner jackets mingle with jeans? Long to look like you’re in an interwar period drama? Then Glyndebourne is the place for you. John Christie, the festival’s founder, prescribed formal dress as a way to show respect to the musicians. Although you won’t be thrown out for forsaking formal attire, it’s still the norm.
It goes without saying, then, that black tie is de rigueur for male attendees. As to women, they have more choice – cocktail dresses are popular with younger visitors, while those slightly older often choose to wear their glitziest couture. The fashion parade, akin to that before a ball but often more eccentric, is part of the festival’s joy.
The English summer is a fickle beast, and even warm days often cool down at night, so it’s worth bringing a coat, wrap or other warm layer to defend against showers and gusts. For those unable to dress before arrival, changing facilities are available near the car park.
Dining at Glyndebourne: Picnics and Parties
Glyndebourne boasts three restaurants, all of which must be booked in advance. Each offers a luxurious menu, ordered as a set number of courses; in terms of price and quality, there is little difference between them. The festival also provides similarly sumptuous picnics, for which you can book furniture and a personal waiter.
But the real Glyndebourne tradition is to sit on the lawn with your own picnic basket, stuffed to the brim with the most delectable delicacies the capital can furnish. There will likely be more Fortnum’s hampers on display than in the estimable shop itself. If there’s no room for wine, such refreshments can be purchased at the Long Bar throughout the day.
What’s on at Glyndebourne: Programme 2015
This year’s programme encompasses six productions, running from late May to the end of August. Although Glyndebourne skews traditional – when asked about Philip Glass by an interviewer, former director George Christie memorably exclaimed ‘over my dead body’ – it does include an admirable variety, this year ranging from Handel to Britten. Two world-class orchestras – the London Philharmonic and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment – provide the music, often supported by the superb Glyndebourne Chorus.
The festival commences on May 21st with Donizetti’s rarely produced Poliuto, in what is incredibly the opera’s UK premiere. A vast, heroic tale based on a play by Corneille, it centres around a tragic love triangle. Michael Fabiano and Ana Maria Martinez play the main roles. A few days later, on May 23rd, Bizet’s Carmen opens, in a revival of the festival’s acclaimed 2002 production. This promises to be the crowd-pleaser of the bunch, with Stephanie d’Oustrac, Carmen extraordinaire, in the main part.
Mozart has traditionally been the festival’s mainstay, and recent years have seen the festival delve into some of his less performed masterworks. Die Entführung aus dem Serail (opens June 13th), written when Mozart was just 26, is a boisterous oriental comedy. Sally Matthews stars as Konstanze, a role that can claim some of the composer’s most stunning songs.
On July 5th, Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia arrives. Revived from a spectacularly reviewed 2013 touring production and directed by actress Fiona Shaw, this intimate and harrowing work boasts a mainly British cast, including mezzo Christine Rice as the title character. If you missed this production’s first airing, this is surely one to catch.
Another highlight promises to be Handel’s oratorio Saul (opens July 23rd), a nightmarish depiction of murder and madness considered by one baroque scholar to be ‘one of the supreme masterpieces of dramatic art.’ With one of the largest orchestras of the eighteenth century and an array of gigantic choruses, this could be revelatory. The cast – which includes bass Christopher Purves, tenor Iestyn Davies and soprano Lucy Crowe – might be the strongest in the entire festival.
Finally, from August 8th, there will be a double-bill revival of Ravel’s only two operas, L’heure espagnole
and L’enfant et les sortileges, seen in the 2012 festival.
Between them, they span the whole reach of comedy, from lusty farce to whimsical fantasy. Glyndebourne favourite Danielle de Niese takes a central role in both.
Art at Glyndebourne
Contemporary art lovers will also want to catch Georg Baselitz's exhibition for the White Cube in collaboration with Glyndebourne Festival. The controversial German painter, who has made some pretty damning remarks about the failings of female artists, presents a series of new paintings of spinning turntable legs and feet that make an innovative nod to traditional self-portraiture and of course their musical surroundings. Catch Baselitz this summer in a new exhibition space designed by architectural studio Carmody Groarke.
|Nearest tube||Victoria (underground)|
21 May 15 – 30 Aug 15, 12:00 AM
|Website||Click here to book via the Glyndebourne website|