Glyndebourne Festival preview

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What’s 75 years old, boasts more than 70 classical music events and runs over three summer months? No, not the Proms – Glyndebourne! Time Out gives you the lowdown on the Lewes line-up

  • Glyndebourne Festival preview

    The audience enjoys the long interval at the Glyndebourne Festival © Mike Hoban

  • Glyndebourne. The word alone conjures up the clink of Champagne flutes, as well-heeled folk in evening wear dine from hampers while larks ascend in the balmy country air.

    Last year I had the chance to see if it was worthy of its reputation. It was. On what, I believe, was the only sunny day of 2008, I set off for the seventy-fourth Glyndebourne Festival with my wife (obviously, somebody had to carry the necessary accoutrements). First stop: Waitrose for picnic food – followed by John Lewis to purchase a hamper to put it in and a blanket to sit on.

    Not realising that it was the final year that one could still arrive by helicopter, we opted to join the hoi polloi and take the train. At Victoria Station I saw composer Mark-Anthony Turnage wearing a Led Zeppelin T-shirt. Clearly, he wasn’t going to Glyndebourne, for the 2.16 to Eastbourne was carrying the best-dressed passengers in England, in customary black tie and evening dress. When we alighted at Lewes rail station just over an hour later, several coaches were waiting to whisk the sartorially immaculate assembly to Glyndebourne, 15 minutes away. And what splendour. Picnics on the lawn, sheep grazing in the fields beyond. Even an opera house. And the reason Glyndebourne retains its international reputation? Not only can you bring and drink several litres of Bollinger without incurring a corkage charge, but the opera productions are first rate. And this is enhanced by the knowledge that, come the main interval, rather than still being in the queue at the bar when the bell goes, you have one hour and 20 minutes to amuse yourself. You can even go for a walk in the spacious grounds.

    This year the festival is celebrating its seventy-fifth birthday. Inaugurated in 1934 by John Christie, it is now run by his grandson Gus, who, incidentally, is to marry soprano Danielle de Niese whom he met when she came there to sing a few years ago – though I don’t think there are tickets for that event.

    So, with even the possibility of a little romance – all that fresh air and champers – Glyndebourne is an experience you should try at least once. Like all classical events, it is available to anyone who buys a ticket, and apart from certain quarters at Covent Garden, this is one of the last bastions of true formal chic, even if you can’t arrive in your helicopter.

    What’s on in 2009

    Rusalka
    Inspired by ‘The Little Mermaid’, Dvorák’s masterpiece stars Ana María Martínez. Czech maestro Jirí Belohlávek conducts the London Phil in Melly Still’s new production. July 5-Aug 28

    L’elisir d’amore

    Donizetti’s sparkling comedy boasts Ekaterina Siurina in Annabel Arden’s production. Maurizio Benini conducts the London Phil. July 23-August 29

    Tristan und Isolde
    Torsten Kerl and Anja Kampe star in Wagner’s tragedy of illicit love. Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Phil in Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s revival production. Aug 6-30

    See more Glyndebourne listings

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